The History of Us: A Novel by Leah Stewart (Touchstone, $24.99, 384 pages)
Sometimes home is the hardest place to go.
In 1993 Eloise Hempel, a newly-minted Harvard professor, gets the shock of a lifetime when her niece, Theo (short for Theodora), calls with news of a helicopter crash. The crash has killed Eloise’s sister Rachel and her husband who were on vacation. Left behind are three young children, Theo, Josh and Claire, who at the time were staying at their grandmother Francine’s house.
The house that forms the nucleus of the story is located in Cincinnati, Ohio on Clifton Avenue where it has sat since 1890. Actually, it’s really a mansion, a money pit of sorts. Francine inherited it and has lived there for some time; however, as with most responsibilities, she chooses to run from it after Rachel’s death and leaves Eloise to raise the three orphans. They are merely residents although the house has strong ties for them.
Eloise left behind her coveted professorship at Harvard and in its place she found a teaching position at a local college in Cincinnati. Her years have been taken up with raising the children and she has very little in the way of a life of her own. Time passes as Eloise’s two nieces and nephews grow to adulthood. Upon the 120th anniversary of the house, in 2010, Eloise hosts a celebration.
She needed distractions, and she also felt guilty because she’d been the one insisting on the party which no one else wanted to have, and like anyone used to being thought of as the good one, the capable one, the responsible one, she preferred feeling over-whelmed and overworked to feeling guilty.
The party sets the stage for what becomes the revelation of the doubts, compensation for loss and confusion that Eloise and her charges have come to know as they occupy the house. Francine, who refused to be called grandma, fled to Florida right after the helicopter crash and in 2010 is very reluctant to give ownership of the house to Eloise. Each of the characters is trapped in a situation of their own devise.
Theo feels entitled, Claire is a self-absorbed ballerina, Josh is a frustrated musician and Eloise is really confused about what she wants from life. This book is more than a coming of age tale; it provides the reader with an expanded understanding of what makes a family and how relationships change.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.