Today I have a review of The Guest Book by Sarah Blake, now available from Flatiron Books. A big thank you to Flatiron for the gifted copy.
The Guest Book is epic in its scope covering three generations of a larger-than-life, well-to-do American family.
In the beginning of the story, it’s 1935. Kitty and Ogden Milton have all the best in life: adorable children, beautiful appearances, and the perfect relationship with each other. A tragedy happens, and Ogden attempts to soothe Kitty by buying an island for her in Maine.
That house holds such importance for the family in the present and the future. It’s also where Kitty proclaims something that will never be forgotten, the effects of which potentially rippling down to her grandchildren’s generation.
Years later, in 1959, Len Levy, is employed by Ogden’s bank. Ogden and one of his daughters accept and admire Len, but no one else does. Not only do they not like him, they despise him. Why? Because he’s Jewish.
On top of that, Len’s best friend is a black man, often the only black man in the room in social gatherings, at college, and in the Milton’s Maine house.
Moving along, in the late 1990s, the Miltons can no longer afford to own the island. Kitty’s grandchildren may have to sell it, but one of her granddaughters, Evie, refuses to accept this. Her husband uncovers a scandal related to Ogden, and now she realizes the potential root of all the secrets embedded in her family.
The Guest Book blends past and present in a powerful narrative addressing multi-generational racism in all its insidiousness. The writing is beautiful, and the themes are absolutely thought-provoking.
Sarah Blake isn’t afraid to go to the bold places. The Guest Book stirred my emotions – making me think and feel and examine. As each generation of the Milton family goes on to become more aware of racism and privilege, is that awareness ever enough? Or can they (we) always continue to grow and open our minds and work to make the chasms in our society smaller? It was a fascinating and intelligent view on this topic that certainly illuminated many points for self-reflection.
Overall, The Guest Book is an important look at the evolution of society over time, as reflected in one privileged family, and just how slow that process can be. How do we fix the transgressions of the past?
I received a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.
An unforgettable love story, a novel about past mistakes and betrayals that ripple throughout generations, The Guest Book examines not just a privileged American family, but a privileged America. It is a literary triumph.
The Guest Book follows three generations of a powerful American family, a family that “used to run the world”.
And when the novel begins in 1935, they still do. Kitty and Ogden Milton appear to have everything—perfect children, good looks, a love everyone envies. But after a tragedy befalls them, Ogden tries to bring Kitty back to life by purchasing an island in Maine. That island, and its house, come to define and burnish the Milton family, year after year after year. And it is there that Kitty issues a refusal that will haunt her till the day she dies.
In 1959 a young Jewish man, Len Levy, will get a job in Ogden’s bank and earn the admiration of Ogden and one of his daughters, but the scorn of everyone else. Len’s best friend Reg Pauling has always been the only black man in the room—at Harvard, at work, and finally at the Miltons’ island in Maine.
An island that, at the dawn of the 21st century, this last generation doesn’t have the money to keep. When Kitty’s granddaughter hears that she and her cousins might be forced to sell it, and when her husband brings back disturbing evidence about her grandfather’s past, she realizes she is on the verge of finally understanding the silences that seemed to hover just below the surface of her family all her life.
An ambitious novel that weaves the American past with its present, The Guest Book looks at the racism and power that has been systemically embedded in the US for generations. Brimming with gorgeous writing and bitterly accurate social criticism, it is a literary tour de force.
Have you read The Guest Book, or is it on your TBR? Happy Reading! ~ Jennifer THR