** spoiler alert **
I bought this book from the remainder table at Munro Books in Victoria last year, simply on the strength of having loved Bel Canto. This book drew me in; I enjoyed the story and the setting, and there was an interesting cast of characters. But ultimately there was no resolution for any of the characters and I would have liked some insight into the motives behind Rose's behaviour. I'm not a reader who needs all the answers but there weren't any here, not even suggestions or hints that might have opened up discussions with other readers. Rose remained a mystery and the conclusion is sad, offering no hope, for Son, Cecelia, and Thomas Clinton, as well as Rose.
Rose was a young married woman in the sixties. We know little about her other than she loved her mother very much, her father died in a car accident when she was three, she was a Catholic who looked for signs from God, and she loved to go on long solitary aimless drives. Upon discovering that she is pregnant,she realizes that, although he is a decent man, she doesn't love her husband. So she leaves a short note, takes his car and drives all the way from California to Kentucky, headed for St. Elizabeth's, a home for unwed mothers. She does not tell her mother or her husband where she is. Her initial plan is to give up her child and move on. But after the birth of another girl's twins, which takes place at St. Elizabeth's instead of the hospital, she suddenly marries the caretaker, Son, who is much older than her and who has been no more than a friend to her. They agree to raise Cecelia as their daughter and Rose insists on naming the child after Son's tattoo of an earlier girlfriend. Son is big and strong, but seems a weak man allowing life to carry him along. He does however truly love his daughter. Rose takes on the role of unpaid cook at St. Elizabeth's and virtually abandons the care of Cecelia to one of the nuns, June Clatterbuck who owns the property, and the succession of pregnant girls at St. Elizabeth's. One wonders why she kept the baby, why she married Son (bigamously), and why someone who claims to love and miss her mother so much could remain out of touch for so many years. Her behaviour towards the supposedly important people in her life seems selfish, cruel, and utterly heartless. Ultimately a letter arrives and, without word, Rose packs up and leaves. Shortly thereafter, Thomas Clinton, her first husband arrives having traced her and lets them know that he had sent a letter advising Rose of her mother's death. Son hides the fact that Cecelia is Thomas's daughter and Cecelia and Thomas don't figure it out even though there are many clues. Soon Thomas departs and Cecelia envisions her future at St. Elizabeth's caring for one of her pregnant friends and the expected baby.