Belva Plain’s novels have a movie-of-the-week quality to them, and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. They remind me more of those Hallmark Hall of Fame movies than the Woman in Peril/disease-of-the-week variety that are staples today. It’s hard to say why her books have this quality, because they would not be particularly effective as teleplays due to the internal dialogues the author writes so well. Perhaps it is the structure instead; the deft resolution to the problems and the crisp and spare writing style. Regardless, I enjoyed Homecoming very much; it is short (250 pages) and well-written and an enjoyable evening’s read.
One cold December day, Annette Byrne mails five invitations for a day at her country estate. The invitations are addressed to:
- Each of her two sons, who have been estranged for years because of a catastrophic business event.
- Each of her two granddaughters, one of whom is separated from her husband after the death of their twins, the other finds herself caught between her father and father-in-law whose religious differences make them intractable.
- The aforementioned father-in-law (and his wife).
The purpose of this little get-together is to end the various estrangements; Annette is a formidable woman in her 80’s and realizes life is too precious and time is too short to be squandered on family quarrels. When everyone arrives on that cold and wintry day, no one is happy to discover their “enemy” is there as well; each had been led to believe it would be a solitary visit, not a summit. It is only when a near-catastrophic event is averted that chinks in the armor begin to fall away and healing among this “family” can commence.
More than the first half of Homecoming is devoted to the stories of the five recipients; indeed, it is not until page 150 that the big day arrives. Belva Plain has crafted some wonderful characters here; each are people we might know, each are people in pain because of others. The characters created by the author are those in need of healing, whether or not they realize it. They are also people with fond feelings toward Annette. That each brings her favorite chocolate macaroons as a gift results in a running joke throughout the book.
While resolution seems too swift and pat at the end, Homecoming is a little bit of magic. Not only are the characters believable and well-written, but their present estrangements are human, if not necessarily logical. I recommend Homecoming to anyone interested in stories of family, and of HEA endings.