“With wit and compassion, The Best of Families captures perfectly the floundering of WASP society at mid-20th century. Trapped in the empty rituals of an upper crust that is well past its sell-by date, young Fran Delafield struggles to free himself from family and tradition. Love, the war in Vietnam and fatherhood turn out to be his path to an authentic life, and his salvation. Harry Groome interweaves romance and tragedy in this lively, evocative novel.”
It's an obit notice not a madeleine that sparks the machinery of this narration, but the classic purpose is served, and 69-year-old Nell Cameron conjures up the chronicle of her illustrious New York family from their insular glories in the early 1900's to the present fall of the 400's social fortress. The authenticity of detail necessarily calls for elitist frames of reference (H. P. Hollander vs. Reboux hats, Southampton vs. Lake Agawan, the St. Thomas vs. the St. James), which unfortunately work towards making this a period piece, and the explicit hungering for such an exclusive past tends to translate Proustian poignancy into Berlin bathos on occasion. The story line centers on the scandals inflicted upon the family by one woman's divorce and lifelong liaison with a married man, and another's defiant conversion to Catholicism. What saves The Best of Families from being the compleat dowager's delight, and nothing more, are the very believable characterizations of Nell's sisters, and consequent interest in their Tragedies and Joys. If it sounds like the rich man's Little Women, you're right, but many will find it a refined tonic for Les Temps du Present.