(Image from TLC Book Tours)
In California's Sacramento Valley, in the middle of an olive tree orchard, sits an old adobe farmhouse. Inside, live five generations of Keller women, all firstborn children, all tied to the land where long ago, their Australian ancestor planted his first olive tree. At 112, Anna Keller is the second-oldest person in the world. She looks 30 years younger and is often assumed to be her daughter's sister. Bets Wallace, Anna's daughter, doesn't look a day over 60, although she's 89. Popping a handful of Vicodin every day for a painful limp caused by an airplane crash, Bets' daughter, Callie Rodgers, is an unhappy woman who owns a gift shop that's slowly going bankrupt. She may be the only woman in the house who actually looks every day of her 65 years. Her daughter, 42-year-old Deb Ripplinger, is at least partly responsible for Callie's soured view on life—Deb's in prison for killing her husband 20 years ago. And then, there's Erin, a 24-year-old opera singer who's come home with a shock for her "grandmas": she's pregnant with the baby of a married man.
As if the women don't have quite enough problems to keep them busy, a geneticist is sniffing around their gene pool, determined to discover the secret to the family's remarkable longevity. Dr. Hashmi's nice enough, but his pointed questions and probing research could reveal long-held family secrets the women would like to keep hidden. Even from each other. Especially from each other. As truths threaten to come to light, each of the women must decide if coming clean is really worth the risk. The bond between them has always been as fragile as it is strong—can their love hold them together in the wake of shocking revelations? Or will their devastating secrets be the thing to drive five generations of Keller women apart?
You may have noticed that I'm a sucker for a good family saga. The key word here being good. I've read too many lately that go on and on with the family part, forgetting that "saga" means story. In other words, something needs to happen, there has to be a plot. The main problem with The Roots of the Olive Tree, a debut novel by Courtney Miller Santo, is that it has none. There's nothing really driving the novel forward. The book has interesting (although interchangeable and not all that likable) characters, yes. Intriguing plot lines, also yes. Unifying plotline to bring it all together? Nope. Which means that, although Santo's prose flows along nicely enough, her first novel's, well, dull. I had enough interest in the Kellers to keep reading their story, but I was also happy for it to end so I could move on to something else. Although it had great potential, it just fell flat for me. And I so, so wanted to love it. Oh well.
(Readalikes: Reminds me a little of The Truth About Love & Lightning and Little Black Dress, both by Susan McBride)
If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language (a few F-bombs, plus milder invectives) and some sexual content