Raised in a crumbling New England mansion by four women with personalities as split as a cracked mirror, young Francis Grayson has an obsessive need to fix them all. There’s his mother, distant and beautiful Magdalene; his disfigured, suffocating Aunt Stella; his odious grandmother; and the bane of his existence, his abusive and delusional Aunt Lothian.
For years, Francis plays a tricky game of duck and cover with the women, turning to music to stay sane. He finds a friend and mentor in Aidan Madsen, schoolmaster, local Revolutionary War historian, musician and keeper of the Grayson women’s darkest secrets. In a skillful move by Fullbright, those secrets are revealed through the viewpoints of three different people–Aidan, Francis and Francis’stepdaughter, Elyse–adding layers of eloquent complexity to a story as powerful as it is troubling.
While Francis realizes his dream of forming his own big band in the 1940s, his success is tempered by the inner monster of his childhood, one that roars to life when he marries Elyse’s mother. Elyse becomes her stepfather’s favorite target, and her bitterness becomes entwined with a desire to know the real Francis Grayson.
For Aidan’s part, his involvement with the Grayson family only deepens, and secrets carried for a lifetime begin to coalesce as he seeks to enlighten Francis–and subsequently Elyse–of why the events of so many years ago matter now. The ugliness of deceit, betrayal and resentment permeates the narrative, yet there are shining moments of hope, especially in the relationship between Elyse and her grandfather.
Ultimately, as more of the past filters into the present, the question becomes: What is the truth, and whose version of the truth is correct?
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“I’ll tell you what I’m ready for, Aidan. I’m ready for the top floor.” His eyebrows shot up.
“I beg your pardon?”
“The third floor of Grayson House. I’m ready for it. I’m really ready.”
“I don’t think I understand—”
“Please, Aidan.” I emphasized each word: “I’m ready to meet Jamie.”
I turned and walked out of that parlor then, and into the foyer and up the ten steps to the landing where the grand staircase turned direction. I ran up the first flight, then paused at the second landing, waiting for Aidan. When I glimpsed him behind me, I turned and ran up the next flight, to the third floor, straight for the door at the end of the hallway, next to the door that opened onto the outside stairs.
I’d been able to pinpoint this door as the one by the soft thumps I’d heard when I’d sneaked into Papa’s room on the second floor—things nobody thought I’d hear—and by watching from my spot across the road: the quick deliveries and arrivals, the things and people nobody thought I’d see.
I hesitated, not feeling anything, I was now so empty. No more anger. Instead I was in tune with senses: the steady tick-tock of the clock at the end of the otherwise soundless hallway, the wallpaper’s perfectly vertical stripe, even an aromatic odor reminiscent of the appendectomy I’d had when I was six—was it ether? And then, finally, Aidan’s ragged breathing when he caught up with me. We were ready, in position—and it was understood I’d assumed leadership: I’d go first.
I turned the doorknob. My opponent had just run through his resources.
Lee Fullbright, a medical practice consultant in her non-writing life, lives on San Diego’s beautiful peninsula with her writing partner, Baby Rae, a 12-year-old rescued Australian cattle dog with attitude.
The Angry Woman Suite, a Kirkus Critics’ pick, 5-starred Readers Favorite, and a Discovery Aware winner, is her first published novel.