Picks and Pans Review: A Family Daughter

updated 02/27/2006 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/27/2006 AT 01:00 AM EST

By Maile Meloy

Meloy returns to the family she created in her 2003 novel Liars and Saints—the Santerres, a Catholic clan scarred by infidelity, disappointment and misguided love. This stand-on-its-own story centers on Abby, an uprooted daughter of divorce whose search for belonging has led her to a California college where she mourns the loss of her father. After her 33-year-old uncle Jamie—her mother's younger brother—arrives to console her, they become intimate both psychologically and physically. Their affair inspires Abby to write a novel built from suspected Santerre secrets. Others in this extended family—aimless heiresses, Jesuit apprentices—cross emotional borders as well, with mostly rocky results. Meloy creates characters whose internal dialogues and dilemmas make them seem fully human. Many moments shortcut to the quick: Abby's regret at attending a "stupid party" the night her father died; a mother's rush of love in kissing "the strange roughness" of her son's bearded cheek; an elderly parent "paralyzed with sadness" at his children's lack of success. These moments ensure that the Santerres stay with you: Theirs is a universal need to feel part of something bigger, something that—however flawed—can bend without breaking.

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