The Heirs

9781101904718_p0_v2_s192x300    Despite the familiar theme of a surprising revelation after the patriarch of the family dies – that he had another secret family – Susan Rieger’s The Heirs offers a unique spin.  The Heirs tells the saga of a family jockeying to maintain their individual dignity and struggling to sustain their family loyalty.

Six months after Rupert dies, his widow, Eleanor, opens a letter with a dated picture of him with another woman and two children, claiming rights of inheritance.  Eleanor, is surprisingly willing to disperse some of the family wealth to them.  Rieger goes further, planting doubt over the whether Rupert actually fathered the five sons in his long marriage with Eleanor.

The surprise of Rupert’s secret life is more shocking to his grown sons, all Princeton graduates, and now all successful as a doctor, lawyer, writer, MacArthur genius and musician.  Since the body has been cremated and Eleanor has had their apartment scoured of any trace of her former husband, DNA testing seems impossible, feeding the dilemma of discovering the truth.

Although the story may seem, at first, to be yet another formulaic tale, Rieger breaks from reader’s expectations; the sharp civilized tone with a sprinkling of Classic allusions reveals characters as more human than expected. With a cast of characters including five legitimate sons, their wives and lovers, and parents Eleanor and Rupert with their line of  disenchanted or rejected lovers, added to the possibility of two more illegitimate sons, the plot lines can get a little crowded.  But just as she manages her own life, her husband’s, and the whirl of five boys to men, Eleanor, Vassar educated, smooth and serene on the outside, smoldering inside, directs the action.   As Eleanor’s past is revealed through a series of flashbacks, her reticence becomes clear.

Rupert, despite being abandoned as a baby, has led a charmed life. After being adopted by the priest who administered the orphanage, he received scholarships to prestigious schools, eventually graduating from Cambridge, and later accidentally sitting next to Yale’s Dean of Law on the train to visit the campus and subsequently receiving a full scholarship to attend.  He marries into a rich American family and carves a successful career at a prominent law firm.  But now that he is dead, his insecurities and passions come to the fore.  Rieger cleverly connects his past to his present, explaining his idiosyncrasies.

Each chapter focuses on a different character, slowly revealing childhood fears and successes, proclivities leading to careers or life styles, and lovers who feed or threaten to destroy the family’s equilibrium.  Although complicated and intertwined, their stories are easy to follow as Rieger constantly rewrites what the reader knows about each.  Love seems to be the underlying emotion; however, the truth is often missing.

Jason Sheehan summed up the book in his review for National Public Radio (NPR):

Love and sex and money and betrayal make for excellent storytelling. And The Heirs has all of that in excess. As an exploration of the hidden lives of Rupert and Eleanor Falkes, it is a posh soap opera written by Fitzgerald and the Brontes. As a window on a family shaken by death, it is The Royal Tenenbaums, polished up and moved across town…But its beauty, economy and expensive wit is all its own.

The story ends with yet another letter and surprise for Eleanor.  She quips, “I want a designated mail opener, someone like the king’s food taster…”

Review of Another Susan Rieger bookThe Divorce Papers

The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go

9781476704586_p0_v3_s260x420Everyman’s dream – to suddenly inherit money from an obscure distant relative – drives the plot of Justin Go’s The Steady Running of the Hour.  To prove his legitimate claim to the millions left by his great-grandmother, Tristan must follow a quest that leads through the trenches of World War I, an expedition up Mt. Everest, and the icy volcanic slopes of Iceland.  The romance between star-crossed lovers is the focus of Tristan’s quest, as he searches for that one piece of evidence that would help him claim his fortune.  His intuition leads him into compelling adventures across Europe.  I skipped over some of the details of the war, and hoped the flashbacks to the expedition would reveal clues.  The promise of a resolution kept me reading, but unfortunately the ending is vague and unsatisfying.

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Three Old Movies I Want to Remember

Because I tend to forget, I post what I want to remember – a handy reference to stimulate my foggy synapses.  From friends who know my penchant for beautiful scenery, period costuming, and thoughtful themes, three movies distracted me from books recently.  I would watch them again – and am noting them here so I can remember.  Have you watched any of them?

Songcatcher – When Dr. Lily McTeer is denied tenure (probably because she is a woman) at an elite East Coast university in the early 1900s, she quits.  Joining her sister at a remote mountain school, she discovers the local culture and the troubadour music that has been passed down through generations.  Determined to preserve the music, she begins to record and write the music into a songbook, but the forces of evil – a mining company – threaten.  Beautiful music, beautiful scenery, and beautiful Aidan Quinn.

Summer Hours – a.k.a. L’heurre d’ete – English subtitles do not distract from this closely woven examination of generations and inheritance. When Helene dies and leaves the house in the French countryside full of valuable art to her three children, they must decide whether to preserve the house, sell, or donate to the Musée d’Orsay.  Memories, secrets, and some sibling rivalry cloud the decision, and offer a perspective on accumulating “stuff.”  Beautiful scenery and Juliette Binoche as a blond.

Cousin Bette -BBC drama based on the novel by Honoré de Balzac.   If you are missing Downton Abbey, this mini-series of “lust, greed, and revenge in  nineteenth century Paris” will sustain you until the new Abbey appears again in January.  Very young Helen Mirren – though not Bette – steals the show.

Celeste Holm and How Stella Got Her Groove Back

As a fan of old movies, I often try to find reasons to quote Bette Davis’ line in All About Eve – “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”  Eve was my hero, but I felt the pain of her friend, Karen – played by Celeste Holm – who inadvertently betrayed her best friend and then was betrayed herself.  Celeste Holm later played Aunt Polly in an old favorite –  Tom Sawyer – with a young Jodie Foster playing Becky Thatcher.

I thought  Celeste Holm was dead.  Imagine my surprise to find she is embroiled in her own version of How Stella Got Her Groove Back – with her own bumpy ride.

Ms. Holm (hard for me to call her Celeste) is 94 and married to Frank, the wannabe opera singer and full-time caregiver, 48.  Of course, money is the issue; her sons are suing, but most of the money has gone to the lawyers, and everyone is unhappy and not talking to each other.

Celeste Holm and husband

She still looks like a movie star, and no one has yet written her life story.

Read the Article:  Love and Inheritance