With a brief but personal memory of a little-known aspect of the American Civil War, this novel mostly covers events of the 1890s and 1942. The viewpoint is that of Blythe Lodge, a very elderly woman in 1942 as she speaks with a guest at her Cape Cod home, one unwelcome at first. The guest is Gilly (hard G), daughter of Blythe’s husband Gil by another woman in another place. She believes Blythe is her aunt. She is shocked to discover her father had this other wife.
At first defensive, both women slowly open to each other sharing stories of Gil Lodge, the beloved husband of one, the hardly known, elderly father of the other. For Blythe the memories are both beautiful and heart-wrenching—recalling her viscerally deep love of a man both exceptional in his talents and insights and deeply flawed. For Gilly, it is an unexpected exploration of a place and a woman beyond her imagining. Exacerbating the emotions are the differences in time and place—Blythe’s decades-old Cape Cod home and the North Carolina Outer Banks where Gilly had lived with her father.
The three main characters, Gilly, Blythe, and Gil Lodge, are drawn so strongly that we feel the emotional forces that drive their actions, impelling them as if preordained. Gil’s deeply instinctive knowledge of the creatures of the sea and the birds connects the reader to the wildlife of both Cape Cod and the Outer Banks. But it is the vivid and engrossing descriptions of the sea in all its moods and ferocity that intensify the emotional impact of the novel, making it as close to great as any I have read. On first reading, this story might seem poetic, unworldly, supernatural. The afterword is a revelation.