Nelle Davy’s debut novel, THE LEGACY OF EDEN, transports us to Aurelia, the home of the Hathaway clan, set on 3,000 acres of Iowa farmland. Aurelia once was the crowning achievement of Lavinia Hathaway, the social-climbing family matriarch. Merely a few decades later, Lavinia’s granddaughter Meredith is the last remaining descendant still willing to return to the empty family home to take ownership of it. The events that transpired during those intervening years are narrated in flashback, layering betrayal upon betrayal until we learn how the Hathaway family destroyed itself.
"THE LEGACY OF EDEN is a dark melodrama that sketches family dysfunction on an epic scale... Fans of multi-generational sagas will enjoy THE LEGACY OF EDEN and its flawed yet intriguing characters."
Meredith, who has built a new life for herself far away from the rot at the heart of Aurelia, is not too eager to come back. But a sense of familial obligation forces her return home when she is named one of the few remaining heirs. Along her journey home, Meredith recalls the life of her grandmother, an ambitious and ruthless woman who shaped both the rise and fall of Aurelia and the entire Hathaway clan.
Lavinia sought to counter the effect of her lowly origins and scandalous marriage to Cal Hathaway by building a mansion and farm to stun the locals. In fact, she made a ritual blood sacrifice and pledge of faith to the land, and the land in turn had bloomed lavishly under her and Cal’s care. But perhaps that land had never been theirs to have. Cal had unexpectedly inherited ownership of the farm from their capricious father at the expense of his brother who had actually worked the farm, leading to a rift between the brothers.
Lavinia’s jealousy and hatred of Cal’s young daughter Julia from his first marriage undermine her own marriage, as she vies with the child for Cal’s attention and plots to oust the girl from their lives. Lavinia’s Machiavellian attempts to control her husband and children pit family members against each other, sowing seeds of disharmony that cannot be easily overcome even in successive generations. Cal is too weak a man to resist his wife’s ferocious will and duplicity. Under the pressure of their life together, Cal simply withdraws into an alcoholic stupor, punctuated by acts of violence, a tendency that other men in the family will come to exhibit. It is the women who remain to duke it out with each other in a fierce battle for the soul of Aurelia.
THE LEGACY OF EDEN is a dark melodrama that sketches family dysfunction on an epic scale. While the writing has a tendency to veer into long expository passages at times, the characters are engaging and entertaining. Although each character strives mightily against the burden of being a Hathaway, it appears that no one, including the protagonist Meredith, can fully escape his or her fate --- a fate set in motion when Lavinia first spilled her blood on Aurelia’s farm. Lavinia has poisoned the well in her eagerness to gain a foothold for herself in society, and now all her descendants must drink from it.
Fans of multi-generational sagas will enjoy THE LEGACY OF EDEN and its flawed yet intriguing characters.
Reviewed by Usha Rao on February 2, 2012
The Legacy of Eden