Saturday, November 08, 2008
When Madeline Was Young
Madeline Maciver crashes her bicycle shortly after her wedding and suffers brain damage that leaves her with severe cognitive disabilities. This event changes the lives of all the characters of this novel forever. Her husband, Aaron, divorces her and marries Julia, a family friend, who assumes (with enthusiasm) the care of Madeline. Aaron and Julia have children of their own who grow up around Madeline and consider her to be at first an older sister and then, as they surpass her intellectually, a younger sister. She remains tragically forever young. It is, to say the least, a complicated family dynamic.
The novel is narrated by Aaron's son, Mac, a doctor with his own family. It flashes from past to present and back again. Buddy is Mac's cousin, a bit of a bad boy, who taught Mac a lot about girls in their days at the family summer home in Wisconsin. The cousins' relationship is exemplified by Mac's awe of Buddy but also by a rivalry. Buddy may be a tough guy who is loved by all but Mac is intelligent (Buddy calls him "Brains") while Buddy fails miserably at school and has narrowed options as a result. The families of Mac and Buddy became estranged ostensibly because of constant and intense disagreement about the Vietnam War but also because Aaron's sister, Figgy, disagrees with Julia's infantilization of Madeline.
In the present Mac, along with his wife and one of his daughters, attends the funeral of Buddy's son who was killed in Iraq.
Hamilton has given us another novel that introduces us to people we feel we already know and feel comfortable with. I love all her novels and this one didn't disappoint.