When you get to the age when you can view your parents as real people instead of larger-than-life figures, then you are officially an adult. At least that’s the way I look at it. Some people never get to that stage—they perennially see their parents from a child’s viewpoint. I think it does your parents great honor if you see them as real people and love them for who they are.
In Inheritance, Natalie Danford explores the adult child-parent relationship in her debut novel. Olivia is the grown—and only—daughter of Luigi Bonocchio.
In English, Bonocchio means "good eyes"—I'm always fascinated by the name authors choose for their characters. I wondered as I read this whether Danford named him Luigi Good Eyes because he "sees more" than perhaps the other characters. Or did she just like the name? Or does my mind just work in weird ways as my mother has suggested on more than one occasion? But I digress.
Olivia discovers a deed to a house in Italy among his possessions after his death. Because her father spoke so little of his family and upbringing there, Olivia is intrigued enough to visit the village of Urbino to learn more. She is guided by a vague notion that she will learn what a wonderful thing having extended family around you is like.
What she actually learns changes the way she views her father. Olivia is essentially raised by her father, but she has been living her own life for many years. She takes care of her father at the end of his life. She grieves for his loss, but she doesn’t want to remember him the way he was at the end. But she feels betrayed by her father when she learns the story of his past.
While I was sympathetic to her on some levels, I have to say that I was often angry with Olivia. She is quick to judge her father without knowing the whole story. Even before his death, Olivia seems to have moved on from her life with her father instead of making sure he had a part in it. And she seems at times to be more ready to believe the word of people she’s only just met than to believe what she knows in her heart to be true of her father.
Now, if we only learned the story from Olivia’s point of view, we would be missing a great deal. Danford doesn’t allow that to happen. She offers us alternating narratives from Olivia’s and Luigi’s perspective. Put together, they offer a complete story of one man’s struggle to reconcile his past with life in a new country and his daughter’s quest to understand how her father could have made the decisions he did and lived with the consequences.
Inheritance deals with betrayal and perceptions—Danford writes about these deeply emotional issues with compassion. Her novel is tightly written (a trait I admire and aspire to); her repeated imagery of sheds, clay, and locks really resonated with me.
We are discussing this in my sisters-in-law's book club next week, but I wanted to share my thoughts with you now. It was my pick, so I’ll update you with what everyone thinks of the book after we meet.
If you want to read more, check out this Square Table interview of Natalie Danford.
Update: I e-mailed Natalie Danford to let her know that we reviewed her book. She responded:
"Thank you so much, both for reading the book in your book club and for reviewing it. A lot of people get angry with Olivia when they read the book! I went to talk to a college class about the book this week, and the professor referred to Olivia as "morally anxious," a phrase I really like."
I think the phrase "morally anxious" is an apt one to describe Olivia. It's nice to know that the book is being discussed in many different circles.