“We’ve always considered Rosalie and Abigail to be family,” said Gwen Merriweather of her housekeeper and her daughter. How kind those words sounded and how cruel they turned out to be when Gwen, sensing she has lost control of her husband and family, falsely accuses Rosalie of stealing and fires her. Young Abigail loses not just the only home she has ever had, but also her best friends, the twins Lila and Vaughn. She never forgives Lila for standing by and not protesting the charges she knows to be false.
Rosalie and Abigail’s fortunes sink even lower when they throw themselves on the mercy of some distant relatives. Rosalie is stricken with cancer and dies, and Abigail is a victim of incest. Meanwhile, Lila’s charmed life continues. She grows up in luxury and marries a wealthy executive while her brother Vaughn travels the world.
The years pass and Abigail pulls herself up by her bootstraps, transforming her humble catering business into a media empire, not unlike Martha Stewart. Unfortunately, Lila’s husband, Gordon DeVries, also resembles a real-life figure, Kenneth Lay. Lila’s world unravels when Gordon’s company implodes. They are publicly humiliated, and Gordon commits suicide rather than face jail. Lila must carry on with Neal, her teenage son, and far less money than she thought she had. In fact, she is now penniless and approaches Abigail for help.
Abigail has one job she can offer Lila --- housekeeping --- the job from which Lila’s mother fired Abigail’s mother. Revenge is sweet, not to mention efficient and tidy, but Abigail soon has other problems to worry about. There’s Neal’s blossoming relationship with her daughter Phoebe, her husband Kent’s increasing distance and a terrible fire at her Mexican factory. The blaze kills one young woman, and her distraught mother, Concepción Delgados, is said to be heading north to confront the señora she holds responsible for her daughter’s death. As if that wasn’t enough, having Lila around also means seeing Vaughn, now a handsome wildlife photographer who has come home for cancer treatment. Can Abigail suppress the attraction to Vaughn she has never managed to outgrow?
Lila, Abigail and Concepción all live on the point of crisis, and each step brings the three women closer together. The details in DOMESTIC AFFAIRS are well done, if a little dependent on brand names, and they tell the story without overwhelming the reader. You sense Lila’s panic and desperation as former friends turn their backs on her and the money disappears; you know exactly why Abigail can’t do anything but work and why her family often seems to dislike her. This is a love story --- not just a story of romantic love but of family love and friendship.
New York Times bestselling author Eileen Goudge has written a great book for the beach. After all, reading about other people’s housework is a lot more enjoyable than doing your own!
Reviewed by Colleen Quinn on June 2, 2009