The Blessings, by Elise Juska, begins with eighteen year-old Abby, away at college in Maine, and missing her large family back in Philadelphia. Yet when she visits for the holidays, amid the clatter and chatter of her large Irish Catholic clan, The Blessings, Abby realizes she has already become a separate entity from them.
At the novel’s outset, the Blessings are a Norman Rockwell family portrait, but when one, then another family member dies, cracks on the surface become more prominent.
In this realistic contemporary novel, each chapter is told through a different family member’s point of view. The tale reveals a twenty year look inside the machinations of family and key individual members of the Blessing clan. Juska deftly makes each voice discernible from another, and provides a full bodied portrait of this family. The structure and tone are reminiscent of You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon, and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge.
While there are no original discoveries here, the story serves to remind us of our heritage, and how in different phases of our lives connections to family strengthens and wavers, yet we cannot totally separate ourselves from our birthright.
In the author interview at the end of the book, Juska says she would like to develop some of her character’s stories further. I hope she does. I’d like to find out what transpires next within the next twenty years of the Blessing family.
The Blessings is available May 6, 2014 from Grand Central Publishing.