Reunion: A Novel by Hannah Pittard
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Length: 288 pages
Source: Publisher, through NetGalley
From the Publisher's Synopsis: Heartbreak and hilarity come together in this story of a far-flung family reunited for one weekend by their father's death, by the author of the highly acclaimed The Fates Will Find Their Way.
Five minutes before her flight is set to take off, Kate Pulaski, failed screenwriter and newly-failed wife, learns that her estranged father killed himself. More shocked than saddened by the news, she reluctantly gives in to her older siblings' request that she join them--and 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 deceits are uncovered, 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.
My Thoughts: Hannah Pittard's second novel, Reunion, is a quick read and a pleasant book. It centers on the reunion of a dysfunctional family, from the perspective of a troubled thirty-something woman whose life is starting to fall apart. Complicated family dynamics are always a good bet as a topic in fiction. There is such drama present in all of the tangled aspects of how we grow up, and then, in many cases, how we grow apart from those we love. A good novel about a dysfunctional family allows a writer to probe deeply into the characters' inner lives, emotions, secrets and relationships.
And Reunion does delve into the inner lives, emotions, secrets, and relationships of Kate Pulaski and her siblings .. . but never, I thought, quite enough.
While I enjoyed reading the book, I often felt like there was something essential missing from the story. Pittard doesn't fully explore the elements of what makes this family complicated and dysfunctional. I wanted more backstory on the Pulaski siblings' childhoods. Given the centrality of theme (the return to the hometown, confronting the ghosts of the past, etc) Pittard offers very few details on what Kate's childhood was actually like, and how it affects her in the present. Why did Kate think her father was such a terrible parent? Her father is a mysterious and unknowable presence in the book, and therefore I couldn't connect with Kate's strong emotions about him. Without understanding Kate's relationship to her father, it was hard to comprehend or care about Kate's epiphany that she is more like her father than she had realized.
I felt the same about Kate's relationships with her siblings Elliot and Nell. Pittard tells us they have a very strong bond, and this seems to be a key element to the story, but she doesn't provide a very deep or nuanced portrayal of their relationships. I wanted to know more, and felt frustrated with the surface-level characters of Kate's siblings. They seemed flat to me. I never felt Pittard provided enough to immerse myself in the family's dynamics or feel emotionally connected to the characters.
Pittard, however, does a good job with the character of Kate, a woman who is facing the breakup of her marriage and her own responsibility for it, and struggling to find a way through her own years of deception. Kate is a complex and often unlikeable character, and yet Pittard makes the reader feel empathy toward her, and hope that she will find the path to a better future.
It's interesting that Kate is a screenwriter; as I read this book, I wondered several times if the story might have worked better as a movie than as a novel.
Pittard's prose style is fluid and readable, and sometimes absolutely beautiful. I do think Pittard is a talented young writer to watch; I will certainly be willing to read her next novel. Many other bloggers and book lovers have had a more positive reaction to Reunion, so don't take my opinion as the final word.
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
I received a complimentary copy of this novel for review consideration from Grand Central Publishing, through NetGalley.