From Publishers Weekly
“[M]oney changes things,” Delbanco’s saga allows, as it slips across generations to examine the bonds of inheritance, fiscal and otherwise, linking three siblings. When the scattered Saperstones—coddled Claire, drifting David and down-on-her-luck Joanna—return to their childhood home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., upon their mother’s death, they discover they’ve been left a sizable sum of money. The inheritance began with a batch of General Electric stock, bequeathed by a cadre of adventure-smitten, self-styled “vagabonds”: no less towering figures than Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford. After a cad in Firestone’s employ impregnates a young girl in 1916, the three give the shares to provide for her illegitimate progeny. Over two generations, the shares and their intangible presence increase; Alice, the Saperstones’ mother, cognizant of her own demons, leaves the trust untouched so that it might fulfill her children’s lives in ways she could not. Each child ponders how to channel the windfall into something meaningful: courage, security, a new life. As their futures reconfigure, they draw together in their new history, especially when tragedy undermines Claire’s charmed existence. While the vagabonds relished the country’s open roads and boundless opportunity—a colorful bit of history animated here—generations later, the Saperstones yearn for a more rooted certainty. Delbanco (What Remains) creates a lyrical narrative showing a palpably American faith in reinvention as he weaves nostalgia-tinged memories into a grittier reality.
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The nature of families, their secrets and their strengths, is explored in sumptuous detail and with uncommon insight in Delbanco’s intricate, multigenerational tale spanning nearly a century in the life of one ordinary New England family, and dramatizing its momentous encounter with three extraordinary pioneers of American invention. Self-proclaimed as “the vagabonds,” Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and Henry Ford were known to travel together in annual treks throughout the American countryside. It was on one such trip to upstate New York that a member of their retinue seduced Elizabeth Dancey. The ensuing pregnancy, when brought to the titans’ attention, resulted in the establishment of a stock trust fund that would, three generations later, have resounding impact upon the lives of Elizabeth’s grandchildren. Just as Elizabeth’s story influences that of her daughter, Alice, so does Alice’s life find uncanny parallels in that of her children. Through such an inventive device does Delbanco, whose previous novels include What Remains (2000), spin a mesmerizing family saga that is simultaneously old-fashioned and contemporary, vibrant and refined. Carol Haggas
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