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?
This is a family saga that is told from the Point of View of three very different characters. A tale that goes back into as early as the early 1900s and deals with different aspects of a dysfunctional family.
First is Elyse who is uprooted from her familiar surrounding when her mother marries a yesteryear rock star. When she hears her step father use a certain word, she takes it upon herself to find out who he was referring to. She is shown to be a 9 years old when the first chapter of the book and we later find out about the shocking childhood she has had. Second is that of Elyse’s step father – Francis as he narrates his story - his life hasn’t been all stars and shine either. He blames his mother and her sisters for everything that had gone wrong in his life and especially for the childhood he has had. As his days of glory are over, he is left to his addiction and slowly develops a problem. The third is that of Aiden, an outsider to the family, yet somehow he is equally important to the story. He is a family friend and mentor to Francis. His narration actually gives us an opinion on what an outsider would see if they cared to look into this family. Then there is Magdalene – though she is not a narrator of the story, I feel a certain amount of compulsion to mention her. She seems to be at the center of the story touching the lives of every other character and influencing almost all the events. She is the ‘angry woman’.
The plot of this story incorporates the many facets of dysfunctional family, family feud, murder, secrets and betrayal. So you see, no matter what the name suggests it is not just about a bunch of angry ladies. It is so much more. But it is really difficult to say much about the plot without giving up some spoilers. Let’s just say that the mystery lovers will get ample opportunity to play the ‘whodunit’ game. The contemporary lovers will find their fill as will the romance lovers. There’s a mix of various genres, bringing together a novel that will appeal to a wide number of readers.
It is really difficult for me to believe that this is a debut novel as Lee Fullbright has come across as a master storyteller. She has managed to bring different aspects of life together with a huge number of distinctive characters to tell the most fascinating story that I have read in recent times. Her research work and attention to detail has contributed hugely to bring vivid colours into the story.
I recommend this book to everyone with a word of caution – this is by no means a light read.
Lee Fullbright is a fourth-generation Californian, raised and educated in San Diego. She is a medical practice consultant and lives on San Diego’s beautiful peninsula with her twelve- year-old Australian cattle dog, Baby Rae. The Angry Woman Suite, a Kirkus Critics’ Pick and Discovery Award winner, is her debut novel.
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