A pitiless look at how wealth and position drive the lives of a diverse community of people in the genteel small town of Prospect Park, California. It's impossible to outline the contents of the book without giving away too much of the plot and, since I hate spoilers, I will focus this review on the style and quality of the writing. The three parts of this complex, convoluted and multi-generational saga are so different in focus and tempo that, in different hands, might have ended up as a trilogy. Timothy Patrick weaves the separate strands with great skill and mastery, creating a tapestry of jealousy, hatred and revenge, shot through with sardonic observations of middle-class hypocrisy and, occasionally contrasted by the opposing forces of love and family devotion.
There is so much in this tale that it could have easily come apart but, somehow, the theme of revenge drives the plot relentlessly like a devastating tornado through a corn field. Some aspects are unrealistic and far-fetched but this is a work of fiction and the everyday authenticity of the common people's world is strong enough that the reader is willing to suspend belief and be taken along for the ride.
The first part “Sisters” spreads its poisonous foundations like an oil spill. The middle “Cousins” ticks along like a time-bomb, plotting and calculating, spinning a web of intrigue that is perhaps difficult to relate to real life. The third and last “Enemies” takes us on a mad, unstoppable ride of reckless power games and murderous folly where the book becomes a page turner and hard to put down.
Most of the main characters are frankly revolting human beings, and even the 'good' ones are not always easy to like. The narrator's voice remains neutral and non-judgemental but I sensed a fair amount of sympathy for human weakness in the face of adversity. Even though the story deals with three identical triplets, the author shows how upbringing and childhood values shape the character of the sisters so that, in maturity, they are as different as can be imagined. Their children (natural and adopted) are also heavily influenced and moulded by their respective mothers' personalities and parenting styles. Strangely, in this distorted slice of reality men have only limited influence and their impact is mostly dependent on their jobs and positions. There is a Henry James quality to the inevitability of an outcome that was almost impossible to foresee but, nonetheless, once the wheels of hatred are set in motion, can only lead to one conclusion. Dorthea's machine-like epic power is counterbalanced by the very human scale of characters such as Sarah and Mack, whose only strengths are their cool intelligence and determination to survive. Horse lovers will appreciate Tim Patrick's confident and knowledgeable treatment of equestrian matters and I very much enjoyed the horse-gentling subplot of Mack's youth, which reminded me of Monty Roberts.
Although the storyline is predominantly disturbing and there is some graphic violence, when something is done very well, it is enjoyable no matter what. This is certainly the case here and I loved the strong, assured quality of the writing, the fresh and original phrasing and the total command of both the gutter and lofty heights worlds that co-exist with such unease, separated and cushioned by the large and anonymous middle-class who despise both bookends with equal vigour. An intriguing and engaging read. I would like to see Tim Patrick tackle some lighter material with the same detached sardonic eye.