Top critical review
Half as Long, Twice as Good?
on December 5, 2003
O'Nan displays real talent in exploring relationships between the novel's characters as the Maxwell family spends a week in the summer at their cottage in Chautauqua, New York. The week takes on a special significance for family members because it might be the last vacation they will be able to spend together at the cottage. Citing reasons such as the difficulty and expense of upkeep, matriarch Emily Maxwell has decided to sell the cottage following the death of her husband. Although her son Kenneth and daughter Margaret (Meg) initially voice no objections to her plans, they become more ambivalent after they arrive at Chautauqua with their families. Emily's sister-in-law Arlene harbors a secret resentment against Emily for her decision to dispose of the family's summer home, since Emily married into the Maxwell family rather than being born into it. Both Kenneth and Meg face financial problems. Meg seems to be headed for a divorce, while Kenneth's decision to quit his job to take a low-paying job at a photography lab has placed financial burdens on his family. Each of the characters, from the oldest to the youngest, speaks in turn, recounting their private concerns and internal conflicts while dealing with other family members.
The book could have been more interesting, but the author soon bogs us down with minutiae as he recounts so many routine events and chores in excrutiating detail. I wish the novel were half as long but twice as good. There is no plot to speak of, since nothing really extraordinary happens during the family's week at the cottage. The only real tension lies in the characters' inner thoughts and their relationships. I guess O'Nan's wants us to realize that Chautauqua and its neighboring areas are falling victim to the changes that time and encroaching suburbia have brought. I wish a good editor had curbed O'Nan's tendency to provide such a detailed, sometimes intricate, account of events. This 500+ page novel does become boring after a few chapters, but I persisted in reading it mainly so I could write a review panning the book. I didn't think it would be fair to critique it without reading it in its entirety and kept hoping it would get more exciting.