Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: PENGUIN GROUP Dutton
Pub. Date: March 5, 2019
The author, Maura Roosevelt, is the great-granddaughter of Eleanor and Franklin. Her novel is about a fictional modern-day American dynasty, the Whitbys. I admit the author’s own family lineage is what captured my eye in choosing this book to review. The fictional Whitbys will make you think of the once enormously wealthy real-life Astor family. In the past, the Astors were known as “The Landlords of New York.” I love how this novel begins: First, with a quote from George W. Bush: “When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish.” Then, in the book’s opening, we learn that the always-foolish, current family patriarch, Roger Whitby Jr., dies after squandering away a fortune. We learn that, half a century prior, a Whitby death would’ve made headlines around the world—not anymore. The reader immediately knows that we will be entering the world of Roger’s offspring and their children as they learn to live minus the billions.
Roger Whitby Jr. has many children from four marriages that all ended in divorce. (The author added in a family tree, which is a nice touch). After his death, he bequeaths what is left of the fortune to his last son, who is adopted, as well as the baby in the family. This naturally becomes the tension in the story. The reader will become familiar with three of his children, each from a different marriage, who play major roles in the novel. They are half-siblings but still, they share the same feeling of abandonment. In these three, we learn that the story is not actually about the inheritance, but rather the half-siblings’ childhood and adult struggles that stem from being a member of a famous clan (Heh, I can’t help but wonder about the author’s motives for writing this book).
I believe that Roosevelt attempted to write a novel on family love and healing. If so, that is not what I read. Basically, this is a poor little rich kid tale. There are so many subplots with each grown child that I became confused, which led to lack of interest. Spoiler: One daughter, in her early twenties (in the first job of her life) is clearly being sexually abused by the man she works for, yet I didn’t feel the anger that I should have felt. Her story gets lost in between the others. This is a shame as the novel has such potential. It reminded me of Jonathan Franzen’s novel “The Corrections.” There are strong similarities (meaning lots of Tolstoy-like soap). I am not comparing the talents of the famous Russian author to either of these current day writers. I am trying to say that Roosevelt’s “Baby” is missing the American Gothic feel that “Corrections” managed to catch.
I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.
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