Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Author: Nelle Davy
Publisher: MIRA Books
Challenge: 2012 NetGalley Reading Challenge
For generations, Aurelia was the crowning glory of more than three thousand acres of Iowa farmland and golden cornfields. The estate was a monument to matriarch Lavinia Hathaway's dream to elevate the family name - no matter what relative or stranger she had to destroy in the process. It was a desperation that wrought the downfall of the Hathaways - and the once prosperous farm.Now the last inhabitant of the decaying old home has died - alone. None of the surviving members of the Hathaway family want anything to do with the farm, the land, or the memories.Especially Meredith Pincetti. Now living in New York City, for seventeen years Lavinia's youngest grandchild has tried to forget everything about her family and her past. But with the receipt of a pleading letter, Meredith is again thrust into conflict with the legacy that destroyed her family's once-great name. Back at Aurelia, Meredith must confront the rise and fall of the Hathaway family... and her own part in their mottled history.
I have recently realized that I am, in general, a fan of novels that weave a family dynamic into the story. The relationship between family members is a fascinating one indeed – bound together by blood doesn’t always mean the most peaceful of tales.
As The Legacy of Eden clearly shows us, sometimes, behind a wonderful façade that other people see and that you choose to remember, there are always the memories that lurk in the deepest, darkest corners of our minds. This novel navigated turns and twists in the life of one family living on one property, the farm Aurelia in Iowa, beautifully. The end result is a tale that reveals the secrets and history of the Hathaways.
While telling a tale with an incredibly large cast of characters can be no easy feat, I thought Nelle Davy did a wonderful job. It is to be noted, of course, that the narrator’s voice is decidedly feminine and thus we only find out about the men in the story based on their impressions.
The Hathaways in their entirety are the centerpiece of this novel. It is their lives we learn about, their memories we experience, their stories we live through. To me, it felt kind of like a pulling back of the curtain on their private lives. They might have put up a good front to the rest of the world, but now, in this particular moment, with the death of Cal Jr who runs the farm as a catalyst, everything that was hidden is coming to light.
Meredith is the main narrator in the story. She’s an artist, who has long since tried to escape the family’s history by leaving for university and taking her mother’s last name. It saddened me that she spent so much time away from her family, running away in fact, but it also intrigued me and I wanted to understand why she did it.
The book is an exploration of the story behind her apparent desertion and her need to bury everything related to the Hathaways. Her journey is explosive, slightly insane and very emotional, especially as you see how she’s been the unfortunate harbor of a lot of knowledge about the things that went on with the Hathaways. This is made manifest when the “Hathaway ghosts” come to visit her, reminding her that she cannot run away from the past.
Apart from Meredith, the book is divided into sections separated by the way of using three other women in Hathaway history – her grandmother Lavinia, her aunt Julia and her sister Ava. Each of these three women are fully fleshed out characters, via the memories of the tales Meredith has heard from her grandmother and that she herself has experienced. We see the good things and the bad things about them, and it’s an interesting conundrum as you try to decide whether to hate them, like them or just feel plain sorry for them (which was me for most of the book).
It is the history of the Hathaways that forms the bulk of this tale, which should come as no surprise considering what I mentioned in my overall opinion. As dirty laundry is aired and moments that have passed are laid out for the reader to see, it clearly becomes a challenge or an invitation to make of the Hathaways what you will.
And friends, there is a lot of incredibly dirty laundry aired out. Every family has their secrets. But the ones harbored by the members of the Hathaway clan are incredibly scandalous. One of the incidents at the forefront is one that Meredith witnesses and that is alluded to at the beginning of the novel. It’s easy enough to figure out what happened, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg, really. There’s so much dirt under there it’s incredible.
But then you read about lighter moments, happier moments. You discover affections for certain characters and sympathy for the losses and struggles they go through. And you wonder if you really should judge them, considering there might be a reason behind everything they did.
The novel goes back and forth between flashbacks into moments of the past (dating all the way back to Lavinia’s entry into the Hathaway clan) and the ongoings of the present (the death of Cal Jr., Merey’s cousin, and the dissolution of Aurelia). I thought it was a good way to relate past to present, to show us why Merey struggled so much with returning home and dealing with Aurelia. And it didn’t get confusing at all to me, even though it’d jump back and forth quite often.
One of the best takeaways from the novel is how honesty proves to be one of the best ways to finally let go of the things haunting you from the past. This novel shows us Meredith’s journey as she tries to come to terms with her Hathaway heritage, incidents she bore witness to, in order for her to move on with her life. It is left to the reader to figure out if her journey was a success at the end of the novel.
Personally, I say you should…
Invest in reading this novel if you’re a fan of books that feature a strong family dynamic, with a journey delving into the character’s history and family life. It’s an interesting read, albeit slow-paced one, but I actually quite enjoyed getting to know the Hathaways, their stories and what was left for them in the future. Meredith’s journey is an interesting one to follow.