THE GUEST BOOK - Sarah Blake
New York City and Maine - Past and Present
In the seemingly long-ago summer of 1936, Ogden and Kitty Milton and their friends, Priss and Duncan Houghton, from two old American families, spotted the for-sale sign on the island off the coast of Maine as they sailed. Ogden immediately wanted it, and so they bought it. Over the years, the Miltons brought family and friends each summer to the big old house above the lawn that spread down to the boat house.
Ogden was grooming his son, Moss, to continue in the family business. It never occurred to the father that the son dreaded that future. Moss wanted to write music, he didn't want to sit behind a desk, marry the perfect girl, and raise perfect children. His sister Evelyn only wanted to be the perfect girl, marry another member of American royalty, and raise perfect children. Like Moss, the other sister, Joan, had no plans to marry, she had epilepsy and was always told that it would prevent her from having children and passing it on. But the year is 1959 and things are not like the old days. Joan meets the mesmerizing Len Levy, a handsome Jewish man who works for Ogden. He and his roommate and life-long friend, Reg Paulson, a black man just returned from a European consciousness-raising tour, are not the usual people that the Miltons associate with. Moss becomes friends with Reg, who wants to write about what life is really like in the real world. Len wants to pretend that class distinction doesn't exist, especially if Joan loves him as much as he loves her. That summer will answer many questions for all the Miltons, as well as Len and Reg.
Kitty Milton is the consummate loving wife and mother. She adores her husband, loves her children, and presents herself to the world as the perfect mate. The island becomes her sanctuary. She keeps to herself, and she wants everything to stay the same, including keeping to her own class. Kitty is sure that was passed on to her children. But she has a dark memory that she will keep to herself up to the bitter end.
In the present day, the children of the Milton family are middle aged and having to deal with the decision they've all dreaded, what to do with the island. It's in dire need of major renovations, it's draining the trust set up by Ogden so much that the family must decide if they should sell the entire island. Evie, Joan's daughter is dead set against changing anything. Her mother loved the island so much that she insisted on her ashes being buried there, although not with the rest of the family, but in a specific spot away from everyone. Evie's cousins are torn, for only one of them has the wherewithal to afford anything remotely connected to keeping the island, and he isn't much into sharing.
Evie is a professor of history at a New York university. She, her husband, and son have spent many summers on her family's island, but now it is a bone of contention between her and Paul, her husband, who thinks it's time to put all discussion of keeping the property behind them. His research in Germany has unearthed some uncomfortable issues, and his feelings about the old rich American icons are made apparent to his wife. And that includes the Miltons and their precious island. This prompts Evie to do her own family research because her mother told her some odd things as she lay dying. Too many things were left unsaid, too much of their history is confusing, or unexplained.
THE GUEST BOOK is an amazing novel of family generations, changes in American society, and how one single event can change everything. The characters are so real, so human that this reader felt that I knew them very well by the end of the book. The world changed so much between the 1930s and the present, and that is made abundantly clear throughout this mesmerizing tale. Kitty, Joan, and Evie are more alike than not, but it is left to Evie to dredge out just what the Milton family history has meant to them all.
Do not miss THE GUEST BOOK, it will make your day! It is a Perfect 10, hands down.