Life hasn't always been perfect for Abe and Cassandra Green, but an afternoon on the San Francisco Bay might be as good as it gets. Read more...
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Life hasn't always been perfect for Abe and Cassandra Green, but an afternoon on the San Francisco Bay might be as good as it gets. Abe is a rheumatologist, piloting his coveted new boat. Cassandra is a sculptor, finally gaining modest attention for her art. Their beautiful daughter, Elizabeth, is heading to Harvard in the fall. Somehow, they've made things work. But then, out of nowhere, they plunge into a terrible fight. Cassandra has been unfaithful. In a fit of fury, Abe throws himself off the boat.
A love story that begins with the end of a marriage, "The Violet Hour" follows a modern family through past and present, from the funeral home in the Washington suburbs where Cassandra and her siblings grow up to the San Francisco public health clinic where Abe and Cassandra first meet. As the Greens navigate the passage of time--the expectations of youth, the concessions of middle age, the headiness of desire, the bitterness of loss--they must come to terms with the fragility of their intimacy, the strange legacies they inherit from their parents, and the kind of people they want to be. Exquisitely written, "The Violet Hour" is the deeply moving story of a family suddenly ripped apart, but then just possibly reborn.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-07-29
- Reviewer: Staff
This debut novel begins strikingly: after an argument with his wife while they are sailing in the San Francisco Bay, Abe Green dives off the boat and swims away—for eight years. The Violet Hour, the title a reference to the evening that draws a sailor homeward in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, chronicles just such a metaphoric journey for Abe, his unfaithful wife Cassandra, a sculptor, and their daughter, Elizabeth. After Abe's dramatic plunge, the story skips forward nearly a decade to the sudden death of Cassandra's father, an esteemed mortician in Bethesda, then flits back and forth across time to Abe and Cassandra's courtship, to Cassandra's infidelities, and to Elizabeth's young adulthood as a medical student and lover first to Kyle, then briefly to the enigmatic Toby. In flashbacks we witness both Elizabeth and earlier, Cassandra, being taken to see bodies lying in wait in the basement of the family funeral home—in one particularly striking scene, Cassandra, whose father recognized her artistic talent, is asked while still a child to paint the face of a dead woman to prepare it for viewing. This is an affecting tale about decent but flawed people—the volatile Cassandra, blazing with helplessness and grief; literal Abe, good at doctoring but bad at messes, and Elizabeth, desperate to find a way to help her parents remember their strengths as they each seek their own violet hours of self-knowledge and forgiveness. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literastic. (July)
Adrift after the end of things
As Katherine Hill’s polished debut novel opens, Abe and Cassandra Green have been married for more than 20 years. Their accomplished daughter, Elizabeth, is leaving for college. The family is taking an afternoon sail on Abe’s new boat, when, suddenly, Abe and Cassandra descend into a life-changing argument. Abe ends the fight by literally jumping ship, leaving his wounded daughter and wife to navigate home.
The Green marriage dissolves, Elizabeth moves east, and the author spends the remainder of the book deconstructing the history of Abe and Cassandra, beginning with their childhoods. Cassandra was the daughter of a mortician; Abe, the lone survivor after not one but both of his parents died sudden deaths. Cassandra and Abe met in San Francisco, where he was a young medical resident and she an aspiring sculptor. During their time together, Cassandra is never content. She flirts with infidelity; Abe is absorbed with residency, work, sailing—anything, Cassandra thinks, but her.
After the fateful sailing trip changes everything, Abe and Cassandra do not speak to or see one another for nearly a decade. Then, the unexpected death of Cassandra’s father brings the Green family together, giving Abe the chance to extend a peace offering to his wounded daughter and drifting wife.
Don’t look for heroes or a typical love story in The Violet Hour. Hill uses sophisticated prose to convey the tone and emotions of a 20-year marriage. The rise and fall of Abe and Cassandra is complicated and cruel, yet with her evocative writing, Hill—who has an MFA from Bennington College—leaves room for redemption. Fans of authors like Sue Miller and Elizabeth Strout should take notice.