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Driftwood Summer by Patti Callahan Henry

So in the last review I had lots of opinions, mostly because I think that book really chapped my ass.  I also have opinions regarding this book, specifically about the two younger sisters who spend about half the book being insufferable, self-centered wenches.  (That's right.  I said it.)  Driftwood Summer is the third book by Patti Callahan Henry that I've read and reviewed on the blog.  You can read the other reviews here and here.  I've become a fan of her books.  This one has family drama--specifically prickly, resentful sisterly relationship drama.

Riley's mother takes a tumble down the staircase of the family home and breaks several bones in the process.  As a result Riley's sisters, Maisie and Adalee, must come home to assist with their mother's convalescence as well as the huge, week long bicentennial celebration of the cottage that houses the family owned bookstore.  There's much more riding on this celebration than the family's letting on to the public: Riley's counting on the revenue from the festivities to turn around the business's floundering finances and pay down some debts.  There is also the secret of her mother's illness that she's been ordered by her mother to keep from her sisters until the festivities are over.

Of course, neither Maisie nor Adalee are pleased to be back in town--neither woman planned on staying longer than the weekend of the big party that culminates the week of special events commemorating the anniversary.  Nevertheless, Maisie reluctantly flies in early from California, and Adalee puts her summer plans on hold.  Now that all three sisters are finally in the same town at the same time for the first time in six years, childhood differences, conflicts, resentments, tensions and betrayals repeatedly threaten to bubble to the surface.  Most exasperating (okay, really, outraged, because I was a little outraged and perturbed about this one) are the tensions and resentments at the root of the estrangement between Riley and Maisie that date back to the summer Maisie stole Riley's best friend, Mack, the only man Riley ever loved.

Both Maisie and Adalee are selfish, self-absorbed, self-centered women who refuse to see past the inconveniences caused to their lives by familial duties, obligations, and so called sisterly betrayals (because how dare family crises demand their attention at this very inconvenient time).  Maisie especially is a piece of work.  She's held a grudge against Riley for tattling on her about a broken curfew; the consequences of which torpedoed the summer romance between Maisie and Mack--this is the 'monumental' betrayal for which Maisie can never forgive Riley.  Never mind that Maisie deliberately pursued Mack that summer despite the full knowledge that he was her sister's best friend and that Riley harbored a long unrequited love for him--this is the betrayal for which Riley has difficulty forgiving Maisie.  But whatever Maisie wants Maisie gets, especially when it comes to men, and she doesn't let a little thing like a wife or a fiancee stand between her and whatever man she wants--no matter if the fiancee is her best friend.

When Mack and his parents return to town for the bookstore's anniversary celebrations, Maisie thinks she finally has her one chance to make things work between her and Mack.  While Riley's determined to keep her old feelings for Mack buried lest she's heartbroken again by his interest in nothing more than a friendship with her.  In fact, due to the scars of that long ago summer, Riley, in all the years since, has expected nothing more than friendship from any man in her life.

Though the main drama is between Maisie and Riley, there is also sub-plot drama involving the youngest sister, Adalee, and her loser boyfriend.  And there is also a sub-plot involving the paternity of Riley's twelve year old son--a secret Riley has kept since the boy's conception.  There are wisps of dysfunction referred to involving the sisters' parents: their mother is a controlling, dramatic, social drunk; their father was largely absent from their childhoods due to his job; and there are a couple of  incidences during their childhood that speak to a parental indifference or neglect at its worst or absent-mindedness at its best.  However, these references are never fully explored.

This is a story of mending relationships, of letting go what could have been, of taking a hard look inside oneself at one's faults, and of moving past the fear that has been crippling one's life for the better part of a decade.  At its heart is family and the bonds between these three sisters that are mended after so many years of estrangement.  For all the frustration Maisie incites with her self-centeredness, in the end she redeems herself by finally opening her eyes to the dysfunctional dynamics at work in her own life.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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