The Understanding: A Novel
The characters in Jane Barker Wright's "The Understanding "seem to live life as if it were one long hummed note. Biographies of great people are written from just such a premise. They trace present achievement back as far as they can to support the unifying take on that person's life. But it's surprising to see it played out against the backdrop of ubiquity, surprising and chilling.
There's Solly Whitechapel, whose "upbringing had occurred in a sphere that was exclusively Anglo-Saxon, [where wealth was expected to behave itself ... as if God Himself had made a generous donation." But Solly does not behave himself. He has a voracious appetite for living outside the lines especially where women are concerned, seducing his mother's friends and their daughters, too. So when he meets Isobel, a pale, underdone oddity against the well-toasted summer white of the rich, he doesn't know that she'll be around the longest of any of his women.
Teenaged Isobel comes from a poor family but has made friends with a rich girl who introduces her to Solly. Isobel knows her friend covets Solly, but when he says "come," she does as if she had been waiting her whole life for that exact word from this exact man.
Solly and Isobel drive west in his Ford Fairlane to be hippies in British Columbia. Isobel has nine children while Solly sleeps with a succession of women of all shapes and sizes, women who often become her friends after Solly is done with them. In between women, Solly plays at being an organic farmer and a maker of art furniture. He even has a piece at New York's Museum of Modern Art.
On the outside, the Whitechapels seem to have made a success out of their hippie legacy until their daughter Magnolia, a famous singer, goes missing. Then the glare of publicity reveals the manipulative depths they have unconsciously sunk to in order to fulfill their destinies. When all is said and done, Barker Wright throws a cool eye over those who would deceive themselves into thinking that they can be anything other than their true selves. '
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