If I had rated this book while reading the first half I would have given it 3 stars. But it definitely gets better as it goes on. Awarded four stars on Goodreads.
Fran is a 19 year old girl living on a remote, no-longer-working farm in Ontario. Her father left when she was 7. Her mother left when she was 14. She managed to forge parent signatures and lie to school authorities and neighbors long enough to get through high school while living on her own and landing a job in a local clothing store. She has built a narrow life with no goals, no love, and no friends.
Then, one night, her mother calls. And again the next night. And through a series of almost nightly phone calls, Fran hears the stories of her extended family from her mother. Those stories begin fleshing out a family tree (literally a family tree grows as the book progresses) full of fanciful escapades that include gangsters, canonization, Brazilian railroad construction, Nazi scientists, pickpockets, sibling murder, incest, and a bakery empire run by a tiny but determined family matriarch.
The voice of Fran’s mother, as she tells these stories, is distinctive, funny, and contains that quality of whimsy where you’re not sure if what she is saying is true or whether it’s the result of the embellishment that often happens as family stories move through generations.
While listening and absorbing family lore, Fran inadvertently discovers the big secret her mother is keeping. And begins to work through her own conflicting feelings of love and abandonment. It’s a very novel novel.
More about Author Audrey Schulman.