Friday, May 8, 2015

"The Children's Crusade," by Ann Packer

What a wonderful novel Ann Packer’s newest book is! “The Children’s Crusade” (Scribner, 2015) is even better than her earlier bestselling novel, “The Dive from Clausen’s Pier.” Readers of this blog know how much I like novels about families; a good such novel has all of the world in it. Of course such a novel, including this one, also has strong characters, connections, conflicts, transitions, secrets, and more. There is love, there is hatred, there is separation, there is estrangement and there is -- sometimes -- re-connection. There is pain, illness, and death. But, again, there is also great love. Let me be more specific. This novel is about the Blair family, and takes place over a period of about fifty years. Bill Blair marries Penny, and they buy land south of San Francisco (in what is now “Silicon Valley”) and build a house there. It is a boom time, an idyllic time, and the couple prospers. They have four children. But Penny is not satisfied with the life of a wife and mother, and increasingly withdraws from the family, focusing on her art. The three older children grow up mostly happily, and are successful in their adult lives. The youngest, James, is a difficult, demanding child, and grows up to be the black sheep of the family. After his father dies, James comes back to visit the other siblings and their old house, and disrupts their generally peaceful (although not without problems) lives. Their lives are mostly calm and controlled; his is undisciplined, unpredictable, and disruptive (in the old sense of the word, not in the newly fashionable sense used in the world of technology to suggest innovation and creativity, and if I sound snarky about this twisting of the language, yes, you are right, I am in fact feeling snarky about it…). This book is a generous 432 pages long, bursting with character, plot, and insights, and I didn’t want it to end. Packer is a gifted writer, and this novel is gift I was glad to get.
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