This was an incredibly thoughtful and sensitive book, focused on family and emotional connections. So, it was a perfect read for a therapist to delve into. In Clapham, based in the Hudson Valley, we meet the family matriarch Astrid. Her story starts with a dramatic fatal accident as Astrid witnesses someone hit by a car, while on her way to the hair and beauty salon. Astrid knows the victim and experiences a weird mix of emotions, because it is someone she thinks about a lot, but really doesn’t like very much. She goes on to the salon where her friend Birdie is ready to comfort her, revealing that they are much more than friends. Slowly we are then introduced to the rest of Astrid’s family and the various dynamics within their relationships.
We meet Astrid’s granddaughter Cecelia, who is facing a big change as she moves towards her grandmother. Cecelia is almost expelled from school and Astrid’s son Nicky is sure that New York is not the best environment for his daughter. His wife Juliette is a dancer and they need to be based in the city, so they decide to send Cecelia to live with Astrid up state. Elliot, the older sibling, is married to Wendy and they’re coping with the birth of twin sons. The middle sibling, Porter, would love to have a baby but doesn’t have a man – well not one she should have. She’s occupied mainly with her goat farm but lives in the valley closer to Astrid.
Each individual family unit has its own issues, but I was most invested with Astrid herself and Cecelia. I loved that Astrid had a loving relationship with Birdie and the focus of embracing your sexuality and your true self, without judgements is very close to my heart. Cecelia has a lot of her grandmother in her. She doesn’t always do the right thing with regard to school and rules, but she has an innate sense of justice and is usually doing the wrong thing on someone else’s behalf. She makes a true friend in August and would always stand up for her, which becomes very important when August reveals she’s transgender. Often Cecelia is more mature than others in the family. For Astrid, the accident she witnesses is a catalyst for her to re-evaluate life and some of her decisions, especially towards her children. She decides to open up about her choice of life partner in Birdie. She also thinks about decisions she’s made or behaviour she’s had towards her children, and starts making apologies. She wonders whether she was too hard on them, and whether they’ve become good people as adults.
Having grown up in a small village I understand the dilemma each sibling has felt on whether to stay in the valley or whether they’re only seen as successful if they get out to the big city like Nicky. All of the siblings were real and well rounded characters who could have easily populated their own novel. The author is clearly a keen observer of human nature. She’s very perceptive too as it’s almost as if she can read people’s thoughts. These characters have a rich inner life! She really throws issues and problems at them too, only some of which their mother is aware of. Yet the tone of the novel remains bright and lively, which is an incredible skill. My only criticism is that I think a more focused book on just Astrid and Cecilia’s storylines might have worked better, especially considering the contrasting societal pressures when Astrid was younger. This was an intelligent and absorbing read, full of psychological insight and wisdom.