Sunday is Muriel Sullivant's favorite day. It is a day off from her work as a casting assistant (a job that is decidedly unglamorous but has the bonus of a best friend/boss named Joanie). She has a Guy Fieri "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" marathon awaiting her pleasure on television. She also has a gigantic bucket of her favorite popcorn to fortify herself while she watches. As she settles into the gloriousness of this day-off Nirvana, her phone rings. Believing it must be Joanie wanting to compare notes on the "Triple D" shows, she answers and is devastated to hear her older sister, Pia, informing her that she will be by to visit after mass. Ominously, Pia adds, "We have to talk." Muriel's heart sinks. So much for a perfect, peaceful Sunday.
Muriel dashes off to buy food her sister might approve of while bracing herself for Pia's usual onslaught of criticism about Muriel's figure, home, wardrobe, singleness, lack of church attendance, and/or diet. Of course, she has no clue as to what kind of snacks Pia might actually deign to eat. Already and as usual, Muriel feels like a Yeti in imagined comparison to slender, leggy, blonde Pia. Their mother, Lidia, has made no secret of the fact that she thinks Pia is marvelous, while Muriel, an unwanted third child, has always been a huge disappointment.
"...a nuanced account exploring the bonds of family, along with the long-term repercussions of secrets and lies."
When Pia arrives at Muriel's apartment, pale and breathless from the four-story climb, she seems as usual at first. Then she begins to act in an untypical manner, tying her own beautiful silk scarf around Muriel's neck. It isn't surprising that she refuses Muriel's offerings of food, instead insisting she will take her sister to a "fabulous" restaurant for lunch. Muriel is not thrilled at the idea of dressing up in the white dress Pia picks out for her. Now she must forgo her black Spanx and shave her legs. Her Sunday has taken an ever-worsening turn, for sure.
Muriel insists they take the bus. As the sisters watch the sights of New York flash by, Pia begins to weep. She doesn't answer when Muriel asks what's wrong, but instead does something completely out of character: she kisses Muriel on the top of her head and hugs her. Muriel is further unnerved when Pia holds her hand. She steels herself to ask Pia why she is visiting her, because Pia must have a reason. She doesn't just visit her. Just then they arrive at the Plaza Hotel, where they settle into the Food Hall.
At lunch, things get weirder and weirder. When two businessmen offer to buy the sisters lunch, Pia accepts. Then she proceeds to eat a large quantity of fattening food, along with imbibing plenty of wine, while flirting with the strangers. Muriel, ignored (as usual) by the Pia-dazzled men, is aghast and flummoxed. Suddenly, Pia announces it's time to leave and heads to the restroom where she vomits, saying that the two glasses of wine have made her sick. Afterward, claiming to feel fine, Pia suggests they take a walk and window-shop together. She insists Muriel come into the dressing room with her while Pia tries on a beautiful gray dress in an elegant shop. Muriel sighs and follows her sister. Will this interminable day ever end? However, what happens next changes everything in Muriel's life, as Pia confides a devastating secret.
Muriel's story is woven through with the backstory of her unhappy parents' lives and with glimpses into her past interactions with her family, particularly her mother (who is quite a piece of work). Pia's story also threads through the narrative. While at times the interludes describing the past feel distracting, they add depth, explaining the family dynamics. Author Mary Hogan manages to avoid turning this tale into a soap opera, even though many plot points have the potential for overdramatization. Instead, she pens a nuanced account exploring the bonds of family, along with the long-term repercussions of secrets and lies.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on March 7, 2014
- Publication Date: March 4, 2014
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
- ISBN-10: 0062279939
- ISBN-13: 9780062279934