A family--the matriarch Emily, recently widowed; Meg, her soon-to-be-divorced daughter with children; and Ken, her underemployed artist photographer son with wife and kids--travels from their disparate hometowns to spend a last week together at the family lake house that was their refuge for so many summers. The book drifts quickly into a prevailing melancholy as a four-day-long rain storm moves in and forces the family to begin confronting the uncomfortable realities of their lives. As the rains lift they see the inevitable conclusion to their stay, which is ultimately escape from each other and back into their lives, where nobody will be there to judge but themselves for the way their lives have turned out.
The language that the author uses is rich, much more rich than you may feel these unlikeable characters deserve, but it helps the reader to understand why these individuals deserve your attention. Let's face it, returning home isn't always easy, and even when we're adults we're faced with the prospect of assuming our childhood roles when we take cover under our parents' roof.
Emily is a character that is easy to dislike as she nitpicks her children and makes them feel guilty for the paths their lives have taken but when the author allows a glimpse of her interior monologue her intentions aren't always in alignment with the way she is perceived. Stuart O'Nan recently wrote the sequel to this titled "Emily, Alone" which perfectly summarizes my expectation of where she would be left after leaving the summer house.