three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
22-May-June-2006
By: 
Maile Meloy
user_rating: 
0

A-AFamilyDaughterReaders who first became acquainted with the Santerre family in Liars and Saints (2003) may be surprised to find granddaughter Abby not only alive and well but at the center of A Family Daughter. In this version of the family Santerre, Abby, age seven, forms a bond with irresistible Uncle Jamie that takes a sexual turn during college. Things don’t stop here: her mother, Clarissa, decides she may be a lesbian, Aunt Margot seeks out a former lover, and Jamie involves Abby in his troubled love life in Argentina. By the time Abby writes her roman à clef and titles it Liars and Saints, each member of the Santerre clan has crossed the very fine line between fact and fiction.
Scribner. 336 pages. $24. ISBN: 074327766X

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he true miracle of A Family Daughter is that it successfully borrows metafictional technique—a popular hangout for the slick, the disaffected or the otherwise absurdly bright postmodernists brimming with self-awareness—to tell a straightforward humanist story. … The result for A Family Daughter is that it is an excellent stand-alone novel, threaded together with a subtle moral exploration of how we make our lives." Sarah Cypher

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This might have ended up a dry postmodern exercise. But Meloy is observant, cogent and a pitiless profiler of how entwined yet estranged blood relations can be." Misha Berson

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3 of 5 Stars
"Sex, bad behavior, and a family that always comes together in the end: Meloy’s novel is not high art, but a nice little read, well suited for a beach chair or gray, late-winter Saturday in Cleveland." Janet Okoben

Entertainment Weekly 2.5 of 5 Stars
"She may have rigged up a mighty clever postmodern game, but she’s written a mediocre sudsy melodrama." Jennifer Reese

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"It’s as if Meloy has cracked her knuckles and dreamed up all these disparate lives just to see what she’s capable of. This is an essential part of a writer’s education—and what notebooks are for." Jeff Giles

Philadelphia Inquirer 2 of 5 Stars
"We get contours of characters, slivers of psychological portraiture. … It’s hard to know what to make of Meloy’s treatment of Abby’s writing life and her fictionalization of her family." Sherie Posesorski

Critical Summary

Those expecting a sequel to the well-received Liars and Saints will instead find a truthful antidote (sort of) to that novel. Abby died in that novel, but in this one, she’s a novelist who penned her past. It’s a conceit that bothered some critics, who saw a lost opportunity for Meloy to offer insight into the boundaries between fact and fiction. Others thought Abby’s novel, Liars and Saints, a brilliant plot device. Either way, readers will not be disappointed in the individual melodramas of A Family Daughter. Like its predecessor, it’s filled with lots of bad behavior and many (too many?) characters. In the end, A Family Daughter may not stand up to its predecessor, but it’s still an absorbing—and voyeuristic—read.