three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
25-Nov-Dec-2006
By: 
Eliza Minot
user_rating: 
0

A-The BramblesThe three Bramble siblings have lost their mother to a plane crash; now their affectionate father, 76-year-old Arthur, is dying of cancer. Margaret, the oldest sibling and herself the ultracapable mother of three, copes by making endless lists and sending Edie, the youngest sibling and Margaret’s opposite in every way, to bring Arthur from California to Margaret’s New Jersey home. Edie does so, though not without mishap, and then flees to Maine. Meanwhile, their brother Max is wandering around Manhattan, unwilling to tell anyone that he’s quit his job. As secrets fester and are revealed, the seemingly close-knit Bramble family begins to fray at the edges.
Knopf. 246 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 1400042690

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"Combining lyric prose and impeccable comic timing, Eliza Minot draws on the family past to construct a paean to motherhood. … Minot’s gift for suspense—a neat trick in a family novel—and a flair for comedy keeps the book from getting too sentimental." Kit Reed

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The novel’s ending … is less than believable, or maybe just jarringly pat after Minot has spent so much of the book revealing so deftly all the odds and ends and unfinished business that resemble most of our lives." Susan Salter Reynolds

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"She delivers such consistently perceptive, even stunning sentences that it’s easy to overlook the less than cohesive story and just recline inside the characters’ minds and listen to them think. This novel is imperfect in a way that leaves you marveling at the many things it does right." Meghan Daum

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Minot favors the lyrical backward glance, parsing the present into finely crafted bits of memory and personal history. The forward movement of the novel—too gentle and lazy at times—is of secondary importance." Laura Ciolkowski

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Eliza Minot finds families an inspiration for her talents: excellent voice and dialogue, droll sense of humor, vivid imagery, and terrific understanding of children’s behavior. … . She undermines her tale, however, with the glib tone, the last-minute mystery about Max, the weird behavior of a minor character who won’t go away, and loose ends that hinder the book from accruing depth and resonance." Irene Wanner

Critical Summary

The author is the youngest of the seven siblings in her family and was seven when her mother died. Her father was an alcoholic, and the brothers and sisters had to fend for themselves much of the time. In addition to Eliza Minot’s first novel, The Tiny One (1999), which focuses on the loss of a parent, Minot’s siblings Susan (Monkeys) and George (The Blue Bowl) have also written about their family crises. The Brambles goes beyond individual coping mechanisms to explore the interactions of a family in unhappy, stressful circumstances. The exemplary prose and richly detailed characterizations take the lead, relegating the sometimes sketchy details of the plot and timeline to a distant second place. While some reviewers see more of the Brambles’ love and warmth for one another and others notice more of their incompatibilities and disconnects, all seem to think their story is worth reading.