A few weeks ago I woke up from a dream with the words “Nobody knows you better” in my mind. Actually, it wasn’t just the words; they were accompanied by the tune of “Nobody Does it Better,” the Carly Simon song. I realized with amusement (and chagrin) that I’d had a book promotion dream. My new novel The Children’sCrusade revolves around a family, the Blairs of Portola Valley, California, and if there were to be a theme song written for the book, the songwriter could do worse than to start with “Nobody knows you better” sung to the Carly Simon song.
The Blair family consists of Bill, the pediatrician father; Penny, the artist (well, she wants to be an artist) mother; Robert, the striver, the worrier; Rebecca, the smart one, the only girl; Ryan, the sweet one; and James, the miniature wild man, the problem child, the one who can’t seem to settle down even in adulthood.
Who was in your family of origin? Lots of kids or just you? How about your family now? How important is birth order in the way everyone gets along? Did your parents (do you) parent all the kids in the same way, or do you agree with Rebecca, who says in the novel, “No two siblings have the same parents. My father was not the same person as Robert’s father. My mother was not the same person as Ryan’s mother”?
There are characters to love in this book and characters to gape at. And there’s plenty to debate, starting with the most complicated relationship in the book, the one between mercurial mother Penny and her impulsive youngest, James. And the troubled marriage at the novel’s center: who is more responsible for its problems: seemingly perfect husband Bill or his admittedly difficult wife?
I’m hoping that The Children’s Crusade will give your book club much to ponder about the way families function. One of the pleasures of book clubs is the way discussions of the books you read open outward into probing and far-reaching conversations about life, and I’d love to hear back from you about what you shared and learned about each other’s families and your own. After all, “nobody knows you better” than your family.
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From the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, a sweeping, masterful new novel that explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family, over the course of five decades.
Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 1954, long before anyone will call this area Silicon Valley. Struck by a vision of the family he has yet to create, Bill buys the property on a whim. In Penny Greenway he finds a suitable wife, a woman whose yearning attitude toward life seems compelling and answerable, and they marry and have four children. Yet Penny is a mercurial housewife, at a time when women chafed at the conventions imposed on them. She finds salvation in art, but the cost is high.
Thirty years later, the three oldest Blair children, adults now and still living near the family home, are disrupted by the return of the youngest, whose sudden presence and all-too-familiar troubles force a reckoning with who they are, separately and together, and set off a struggle over the family’s future. One by one, the siblings take turns telling the story—Robert, a doctor like their father; Rebecca, a psychiatrist; Ryan, a schoolteacher; and James, the malcontent, the problem child, the only one who hasn’t settled down—their narratives interwoven with portraits of the family at crucial points in their history.
Reviewers have praised Ann Packer’s “brilliant ear for character” (The New York Times Book Review), her “naturalist’s vigilance for detail, so that her characters seem observed rather than invented” (The New Yorker), and the “utterly lifelike quality of her book’s everyday detail” (The New York Times). Her talents are on dazzling display in The Children’s Crusade, an extraordinary study in character, a rare and wise examination of the legacy of early life on adult children attempting to create successful families and identities of their own. This is Ann Packer’s most deeply affecting book yet.