A version of this discussion was previously published as a Starred Review in Shelf Awareness for Readers (October 21, 2014). Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and compensated me for the review they received and posted.
Three ex-wives, one widow, and four sets of children ranging from in age from six years to nearly forty are called together by the sudden death of their common husband and father in Hannah Pittard’s (The Fates Will Find Their Way) second novel, Reunion.
Kate is the youngest of the three children of Stan Pulaski’s late first wife. Deeply in debt and desperate to save her own marriage, she is en route to Chicago to attempt just that when she learns that her father has killed himself. Her brother and sister’s insistence that she meet them back in their hometown of Atlanta to deal with the aftermath redirects Kate to the city, and the extended family, that she has avoided for years at a time when she particularly doesn’t want to be there. Kate’s resentment of her father’s philandering and dishonesty kept her at a distance for years, but what unfolds over several days with her oldest and youngest siblings will force her to face just how much like him she really is.
Pittard takes a bit of a risk in making the self-absorbed, often oblivious, admittedly untrustworthy Kate Reunion‘s narrator; her narrow perspective limits the development of other, potentially more engaging characters. However, Pittard is working with a familiar and fruitful premise here–a family’s discovery of one another’s secrets following the death of its patriarch–and takes it in some unexpected and affecting directions. While Reunion‘s framework feels reminiscent of Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, the story of Pittard’s Pulaski clan has its own very particular complications.
Five minutes before her flight is set to take off, Kate Pulaski, failed screenwriter and newly failed wife with scarcely a hundred dollars to her name, learns that her estranged father has killed himself. More shocked than saddened by the news, she gives in to her siblings’ request that she join them, along with her many half-siblings and most of her father’s five former wives, in Atlanta, their birthplace, for a final farewell.
Written with huge heart and bracing wit, REUNION takes place over the following four days, as family secrets are revealed, personal foibles are exposed, and Kate-an inveterate liar looking for a way to come clean-slowly begins to acknowledge the overwhelming similarities between herself and the man she never thought she’d claim as an influence, much less a father. Hannah Pittard’s prose masterfully illuminates the problems that can divide modern families–and the ties that prove impossible to break.
“On June 16, at roughly eight-thirty in the morning, I get the phone call that my father is dead. Actually, that’s not quite right. At eight-thirty in the morning, still on June 16, the plane I’m on takes a detour and lands two hundred miles south of its destination (Chicago) because of a massive storm system that’s closed both O’Hare and Midway. We sit on the runway for an hour. As a concession, the flight attendants pass out bottles of water and tell us we can turn on our cell phones until it’s time to redepart. I have three messages. They’re all from Elliott, my brother, who I talk to a few times a year, which would suggest we’re not close, but we are. We don’t see each other much, but when we do, everything catches up immediately, like the time between meetings never happened. We are thick as thieves, but we suck at the phone.”