ABOUT THE BOOK:
The Guest Book follows three generations of a powerful American family, a family that “used to run the world”.
And when the novel begins in 1935, they still do. Kitty and Ogden Milton appear to have everything—perfect children, good looks, a love everyone envies. But after a tragedy befalls them, Ogden tries to bring Kitty back to life by purchasing an island in Maine. That island, and its house, come to define and burnish the Milton family, year after year after year. And it is there that Kitty issues a refusal that will haunt her till the day she dies.
In 1959 a young Jewish man, Len Levy, will get a job in
An island that, at the dawn of the 21st century, this last generation doesn’t have the money to keep. When Kitty’s granddaughter hears that she and her cousins might be forced to sell it, and when her husband brings back disturbing evidence about her grandfather’s past, she realizes she is on the verge of finally understanding the silences that seemed to hover just below the surface of her family all her life.
An ambitious novel that weaves the American past with its present, The Guest Book looks at the racism and power that has been systemically embedded in the US for generations. Brimming with gorgeous writing and bitterly accurate social criticism, it is a literary tour de force.
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The Guest Book by Sarah Blake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Guest Book by Sarah Blake is a 2019 Flatiron Books publication.
An Epic multi-generational family saga exposing long buried secrets and truths- not only providing a mirrored reflection of the privileged Milton’s, but of the entire country as well…
“There is the crime and there is silence”
In the mid-thirties, golden couple Ogden and Kitty Milton, recovering from a horrific tragedy, purchase Crockett Island, making it a point of renewal. They will ‘summer’ there every year of their lives, thereafter, as do their children, and their grandchildren. But now the money has run out and the house is in ill repair, leaving the painful decision about the island’s future to rest in the hands of the only surviving family members- a trio of cousins, who each have their own agenda.
“Nothing will ever change. Sunlight. Starlight. Drinks on the dock. A single sail out in the bay. It will never change. It seems to promise. ‘You will not die’ On and on. Like a painting. Here you are. As long as the Island stands, we stand. Time never minds”
Evie is fighting hard to keep the island, while her cousins are open to selling it, and her husband, Paul, constantly reminds her of their financial situation.
But is Evie holding on to the island, or to her mother’s memory?
Evie can easily laugh at her family's 'WASP culture' history, yet she becomes irritated if anyone else passes judgements on them. And- Despite evidence to the contrary, Evie stubbornly turns a blind eye to the dark secrets hidden in her family’s past.
As Blake takes us back across time, a heart wrenching story unfolds, revealing an ugly, sad, guilt ridden underbelly to the affluent Milton family, one deeply rooted in entitlement, prejudice and racism. Yet, future generations attempt to provoke a new value system, one which requires a conscience, insists on a shift in attitude, and demands change. The contrasts between entitlement, power and control, against idealism, and then juxtaposed against certain harsh truths, stirs up a tragic fire storm, which left this reader with a fire in my belly, on the edge of my seat, and with an ache in my heart, not only for the characters, but for -Us
“History is sometimes made by heroes, but it is also always
Sarah Blake’s writing is beautiful. Her prose is elegant, powerful, poignant, and almost hypnotic. The characterizations and dialogue are so incredibly vivid and devastatingly realistic. The trappings of wealth, the narrow- mindedness of class distinctions, the half- lived lives, the progression and changes of the times unfolding through the years, stripping away decades of racism and prejudice is mesmerizing.
Yet, for Evie, as the blanks are finally filled in, there is a revealing defensiveness, a conspiratorial, protective silence, and a stubborn refusal to accept the reality of her family’s history, one which is too painful to acknowledge.
Although the story leaves us with a hint of hope, it is a shy, tentative first step. Mirrors don’t lie- looking into one, seeing the dark corners of our nation’s past, and our own personal histories exposed, is neither easy, nor kind.
However, it is an opportunity to break the chain, learn from the past, work diligently to prevent history from repeating itself. It is a lesson we can all learn from. Stay on the forward path, ever alert, never silent, or willfully ignorant. That is the key to releasing the past, where healing begins, where forgiveness takes root, and hope’s seed is planted.
This is an outstanding family saga, so well-written and packed with tautness and poignancy. I was absolutely riveted to the pages of this rich, compelling novel from start to finish. If you can only fit in one book in this summer- make it this one!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sarah Blake is the author of the novels Grange House, the New York Times bestseller The Postmistress, and The Guest Book. She lives in Washington, D.C.