Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Therese Anne Fowler is a contemporary American author, best known for her novels about strong women from history whose stories either have been mistold or are largely untold. She took advantage of the shutdowns during the pandemic to try her hand at something different; and tells the reader at the beginning of the book that this story is for all who needed some brightness during a dark time.
The author has set this book in areas she knows best, Manhattan and Maine. The title of the book is the same as that of the last chapter of the story and the coda, which follows, begins with the statement ‘Life is too often short and messy, full of complications, difficulties, betrayals, mistakes. Full of unfairness and loss. And questions… And then there is the matter of love – in all its forms…Love. Yes. You may see it differently, but for me, it all comes down to this’ (340-1). It is nice to have the title so obviously linked to the story.
The first sentence in chapter one says, ‘How differently the Geller sister’s lives would have turned out had C.J. Reynolds not been released from prison that February’. This statement, I believe, is completely misleading, and I can only think that it is there to grab attention. Yes, he has been in prison, but he is not a danger to anyone. His main interest is in buying the holiday home belonging to the Gellers. He was known to the oldest Geller sister, but it was for a fleeting time a long time ago.
He was not the one who changed the lives of all the Geller sisters. In their case, it was more their mother’s wishes that affected them all so profoundly. ‘Mum dying that way was like a bomb being dropped in the middle of their lives. Boom! Fallout everywhere’ (312). She had ensured that her modest estate was easy for her family to manage once she’d gone––including a provision that the family’s summer cottage on Mount Desert Island, Maine, must be sold, the proceeds split equally between the three girls.
The story revolves around how the Geller girls react to these conditions and the state their lives are in at the time. At the same time, secrets from the past are revealed concerning their mother. Living independently from each other, they are now drawn together with their mother’s death.
Beck is the oldest. She is a journalist who is pragmatic, but sensitive. A grandmother at an early age, she is not completely happy in her marriage. Claire is a doctor, caring, but sceptical too, and sometimes quick to judge. She has a long-kept secret which, when her husband became aware of it, resulted in her divorce. Sophie is an assistant gallerist, forgiving yet cagey, and self-protective who lived in a world she could not afford and in her thirties was still single and carried a huge debt.
I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the lives of these three girls from their so-different points of view. The two men who dominated the storyline elicited both sympathy and admiration from this reader.
Throughout the story, the reader is treated to glimpses of life in America through the descriptions of the buildings, environment and lifestyles of the key players. The reader also is given a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous and the often rift between children and their parents regardless of social standing. I loved the way the author painted pictures in the mind of the reader. She has described Sophie as untethered as a hummingbird in flight, ‘zipping from place to place, pollinating this flower and that one’ (189) and the tourists who flock to Maine to their summer retreats as ‘starlings to roost and feast before flying off again’ (323).
One thing I found unusual in this book is that the page numbers were at the top of the page and the first page of each chapter had no number.
For me, this story was of the style of Nora Roberts’s books, and I was left with the feeling that there were stories to come which would focus more closely on each of the main characters, not just the girls. The reader is given just enough information in this book to want to know how each of their lives progressed from this point.
This is a book about relationships. It is not a fast-paced action book or a murder mystery and therefore is probably most suited to the female reader.
It All Comes Down to This
By Therese Anne Fowler