Nestled "neath the balsams and within earshot of loons," the community of Blackberry Mountain—where the adults are aging hipsters, politics are progressive, and communing with nature builds character—is Eden on earth. Or so young Ted Jenks thinks of his hometown in New York State's Adirondacks—until Maisie, his beautiful, plucky 15-year-old sister, pauses at the top of a waterfall, strips before family and friends and plunges headfirst into a shallow rock pool.
That inexplicable act sends the ground rumbling beneath the Jenks family; no sooner do they gather around Maisie's hospital bed than they crack and fall apart, stirring Ted's suspicion "that there was no such thing as a story there wasn't more to." His hunch proves right—for his affable, hapless father and his hard-bitten, practical mother, who separate, and for longtime family friend and mentor Doc Halliday.
Wolff, who cast an unflinching eye at his own famously dysfunctional family in the masterful 1979 memoir The Duke of Deception, skillfully lays bare a world of rueful adults, even children, whose memories are rife with ache and bitterness—a bleak, amoral place where no one can move fast or far enough from harm. When Ted grows up, he finally unravels the mystery of what sent Maisie over the edge and he finds a core of corruption and cold-blooded cruelty—the dark heart of an idyll that never was. (Knopf, $23)