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The Second Home

Review

The Second Home

From debut novelist Christina Clancy comes THE SECOND HOME, a pitch-perfect summer novel with a scintillating combination of drama, heart and lovely prose that will stay with you long into autumn.

Set on Cape Cod’s historic waterfront, the book follows the lives of siblings Ann and Poppy and their adopted brother, Michael. When we meet Ann, she is grieving the sudden loss of her parents and wandering through the family’s beloved Wellfleet home preparing to meet with a realtor. Though the house was in the Gordon family for generations, and Ann has many fond memories there, she and Poppy have decided to sell it and keep their plans from Michael, with whom they have lost touch. But Ann starts to realize that the beautiful, eclectic house that gave them so much now needs a little love from them if they are to prevent it from being razed. As she tallies up the work to be done, she remembers the disastrous summer that changed her relationship with the house forever.

"Masterfully plotted with fascinating, original characters, THE SECOND HOME is a riveting and dark family saga with plenty of vivid descriptions of the Cape Cod beaches and historic homes to keep you dreaming of sunny days."

Alternating among the three siblings’ perspectives, Clancy takes us back to 1999 and the first summer that Michael spends with the Gordons back East. An orphan who has seen the worst of what life has to offer, Michael was brought into the family first by Ann, a popular, independent girl who took him under her wing at school, and later by her parents, Connie and Ed. Immersing us fully into the landscape of Cape Cod through Michael’s eyes, Clancy reveals the deep ties that the Gordons have not only to the Wellfleet home, but also to one another. As overjoyed as he is to be included, Michael is equally dismayed by the differences between the Gordons and his own mother. Setting the scene with family squabbles and endearments, Clancy highlights the openness of the Gordon clan while making clear the ways that Michael is still so separate from their history. And then there’s his attraction to Ann.

Jumping ahead a year, we see that the Gordon family has continued to thrive and grow, but that Ann and Michael’s relationship has become strained. Michael is so desperate to maintain his place in the family that he must push Ann away or risk falling for her even more. At the same time, Ann has grown into herself and begun to seek higher ambitions, like babysitting for the wealthy Shaws, who live on the “good” side of the Cape, where they shuffle their gawky boys back and forth to tennis lessons and friends’ houses and attend galas and fancy soirees. Between nervous, aging Maureen and slick, big talker Anthony, the Shaws become a huge part of Ann’s summer --- in more ways than one. Unfortunately, they come to prove fatal for the Gordons’ well-being, and Ann’s interactions with them lead to a horrifying misunderstanding that severs the family forever, leaving their most vulnerable member, Michael, to deal with the brunt of the consequences.

Now, with Ann and Poppy preparing to sell the Wellfleet home, Michael reemerges in their lives. As an adopted son, he, too, has a say in the future of the house. Not only does he want to keep it, he would like to set the record straight about that fateful summer. Naturally, drama ensues, and Clancy keeps the pages turning at a shocking rate --- with miscommunication leading the plot in surprising directions. This comes to be a theme of the book, with family members frequently misinterpreting and misrepresenting one another, adding an “unreliable narrator” trope to the book --- only multiplied by three. In one particularly memorable instance, Michael fondly recalls his adoptive dad asking him to “speak his peace” when he is feeling upset, while Ann remembers her father’s phrase as “speak your piece,” and more a reflection of democracy and equality than of heart and compassion. Now imagine misunderstandings like these applied to years of emotional discord and secrecy.

With each of the Gordon siblings leading the way, THE SECOND HOME unfolds quickly, with some details a bit more glossed over than I would have liked. Some early plot elements require more explanation, or at least a suspension of disbelief, but if you can accept them, the story moves along smoothly and clearly from there. Ann, Poppy and Michael are distinct in their motivations and backgrounds, and Clancy balances their chapters well. Although I feel that many readers will find Ann unlikable and Poppy a little too flighty, they both serve the story well and make for plenty of interesting drama. Despite her ignorance and occasional lies, I actually loved Ann --- the toughest of the Gordon clan and the most sure of herself --- for her stalwartness. Michael, too, was a highlight, with his brokenness and desperate need for stability. And the tension between the two is positively engrossing.

For a novel about miscommunication, THE SECOND HOME is surprisingly astute and poignant. As a reader, you almost wish you could jump in and play telephone with the characters, but Clancy is in such full control of them that you don’t need to do that. This is indicative of a real talent, and I am sure that we will see many more dark dramas from her in the future. Masterfully plotted with fascinating, original characters, THE SECOND HOME is a riveting and dark family saga with plenty of vivid descriptions of the Cape Cod beaches and historic homes to keep you dreaming of sunny days.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on June 12, 2020

The Second Home
by Christina Clancy

  • Publication Date: June 2, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 1250239346
  • ISBN-13: 9781250239341