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The Guest Book

Review

The Guest Book

Kitty Milton was the very embodiment of a good 1930s high-society wife. While her husband, Ogden, made his banking fortune by securing partnerships at home and abroad in Germany, she doted on their three children. Good manners were as easy as breathing --- she commanded social gatherings as the perfect hostess. But when a few tragic seconds stole a piece of her soul, Ogden moved heaven and earth to restore her joy by purchasing Crockett’s Island. This summer haven slowly restored her peace and provided a lifetime of memories for her children.

On the island, Joan, Evelyn and Moss frolicked as children, eating lobster and dipping their toes in the waters of adventure, and were raised to follow the rules that governed polite society. And as they came of age, wherever their lives took them, each summer they returned to the comfort of Crockett’s Island --- and to the traditions that were being handed down to them as they would hand them down to their own children. But while Evelyn clung to the propriety with which she was raised, Joan and Moss found themselves confronted with new, noisy ideas that disrupted the status quo, bringing the “haves” and “have nots” into sharp contrast and upsetting the construct of their parents' privilege...and theirs by extension.

"THE GUEST BOOK delivers a beautiful family story while depositing seeds of questions within each person who turns its pages.... This novel will delight book clubs everywhere and create conversations that shouldn’t be missed."

Standing on the shoulder of the previous two generations, historian Evie Milton and her cousins are now left with the enormous task of deciding what to do with Crockett’s Island. And when Evie learns information that casts her family memories in a new light, she’s left with a decision to choose how much of her history should stay in the past --- and how much should affect her future.

THE GUEST BOOK is a sweeping family saga that spans generations. The story skims along the timeline of history, linking the lives of each member of the Milton family (and their distinct perspectives) with important historical events.

With bold and subtle strokes, Sarah Blake masterfully creates a narrative of the role that privilege plays in American history against the backdrop of the idyllic Crockett’s Island, where time seems to almost stand still. Each character’s relationship to the island differs slightly, making the familial summer home a brilliant storytelling touchpoint throughout the pages of the book.

Blake’s ability to juggle each storyline and the complex characters within them richened the story. Through these multiple points of view, each character picked the story up, turned it a bit, and kept the momentum churning forward. But all paths eventually converged together for a satisfying ending.

That said, often I found the prose to be a little flowery for my taste. Sometimes I would start a sentence the length of a paragraph and would forget the beginning before I arrived at the end. While the author’s command of her craft is never in doubt, personally I could have enjoyed the book more easily if some of the overly descriptive phrases had been edited out.

However, the tapestry of the story is woven tightly despite the massive undertaking to do justice to each of the time periods. But perhaps the most impressive of all is how Blake managed to convey weighty themes as undercurrents throughout the story without being heavy-handed --- allowing readers to find themselves through each character’s perception of their reality. Juxtaposing WWII Germany with America’s racial divide, Blake points a light at discrimination not just at those who performed horrendous acts, but at the everyday people who contributed to them by staying silent. And the construct of how those with power and control can marginalize and destroy those without the means to fight back...no matter how far they climb up the proverbial ladder.

THE GUEST BOOK delivers a beautiful family story while depositing seeds of questions within each person who turns its pages. Will we repeat the mistakes of silent majorities in our past? Or create a future where human life is valued regardless of position? This novel will delight book clubs everywhere and create conversations that shouldn’t be missed.

Reviewed by Amy Haddock on May 10, 2019

The Guest Book
by Sarah Blake

  • Publication Date: May 7, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250110254
  • ISBN-13: 9781250110251