Family feuds and family jewels
Imagine what it would be like for Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s grandchildren to deal with the messes their grandparents made 80 years ago. The eponymous piece of jewelry of Claire McMillan’s absorbing novel is what remains of another Gatsby-esque Jazz Age tragedy made by another bunch of careless people.
Nell Merrihew has come to the family seat in Ohio after being tapped as the executor of her great-aunt Loulou Quincy’s will. This is viewed with some dismay by her upper-crust Quincy cousins, for Nell isn’t considered one of the clan. When Nell’s statuesque, snobbish cousin Pansy finds out that Loulou gifted a fabulous and valuable Indian necklace to Nell, Pansy has no problem threatening to haul out the big legal guns. Anyone who’s had to deal with a passel of greedy and/or irrational kinfolk when it comes to the fine print of a last will and testament will identify, painfully.
Alternating with Nell’s chapters are those focusing on the triangle involving Nell’s long-dead maternal grandparents. Loulou’s brothers, Ethan and Ambrose Quincy, contend for the love of May, a nice girl from another well-heeled family who’s going to marry one or the other anyway. When the restless Ambrose decides to head to Asia for some culture and big-game hunting, May stays behind with the dutiful Ethan. In the fullness of time, Ambrose returns with the necklace meant for May, his new sister-in-law.
McMillan impresses with her knowledge and interplay of both timelines: Ambrose’s handwritten letters versus the texts between Nell and her love interest; the golden sheen that surrounds a family at the height of its pre-Depression power and wealth versus the aggravations of having to find ways to get rid of every unwanted, moth-eaten thing in that family’s crumbling old mansion. Throughout, McMillan reminds the reader that the bonds and misunderstandings among families continue from generation to generation.