There aren’t any skeletons in my family closet. Well, I should say there are plenty, but the bones don’t stay put long enough to gather even a modicum of dust. I grew up surrounded by storytellers and much of their material came from the criminals and screw-ups scattered across our family tree. A good story is better currency than gold. It wasn’t until I was eight or nine that I became aware of the fact that the adults told each other stories that they didn’t tell in front of children.
These stories, often about their own mistakes, embarrassments, and regrets were much more interesting than what we heard sitting around in the living room trying to digest the bounty of a holiday meal. Such confessions were given after the children were in bed. I remember coming out of my room in search of a glass of water and hearing my father talk about his service in the Vietnam War. Nobody noticed me, and so I snuck into the living room and lay on my back behind the couch listening to my parents, my grandparents and other relatives trade stories.
If I were to pinpoint when I decided I wanted to be a writer, it would be the summer I read all of Laura Ingles Wilder’s books, but that day, when I fell asleep trying to figure out which of Grandpa’s relatives had gone into labor in a bar, I discovered the material I needed to do what Laura had done. I still eavesdrop—on strangers and relatives—because unguarded conversation is where we let a little of the truth of our lives out. After I had my first child, I became privy to the adults-only skeletons and discovered what I hadn’t realized as a child. These stories weren’t kept from me because of the subject matter, but because once told they humanized the adults—made them fallible. Children mostly require infallibility (or at least the illusion of it) from the adults in their lives.
My book, THE ROOTS OF THE OLIVE TREE explores the problems that arise when skeletons are kept in the closet and parents, especially mothers, fail their children. So many of the stories in the novel are re-imagined versions of the stories I’ve heard about my own family over the years and I hope that readers find them as fascinating as I did.
We’re giving away a copy of THE ROOTS OF THE OLIVE TREE today. Simply leave a comment on this post to enter.
Anna, the family matriarch, is 112 and determined to become the oldest person in the world. An indomitable force, strong in mind and firm in body, she rules Hill House, the family home she shares with her daughter Bets, granddaughter Callie, great-granddaughter Deb, and great-great-granddaughter Erin. Though they lead ordinary lives, there is an element of the extraordinary to these women: the eldest two are defying longevity norms. Their unusual lifespans have caught the attention of a geneticist who believes they hold the key to breakthroughs that will revolutionize the aging process for everyone.
But Anna is not interested in unlocking secrets the Keller blood holds. She believes there are some truths that must stay hidden, including certain knowledge about her origins that she has carried for more than a century. Like Anna, each of the Keller women conceals her true self from the others. While they are bound by blood and the house they share, living together has not always been easy. And it is about to become more complicated now that Erin, the youngest, is back, alone and pregnant, after two years abroad with an opera company. Her return and the arrival of the geneticist who has come to study the Keller family ignites explosive emotions that these women have kept buried and uncovers revelations that will shake them all to their roots.
Told from varying viewpoints, Courtney Miller Santo’s compelling and evocative debut novel captures the joys and sorrows of family—the love, secrets, disappointments, jealousies, and forgiveness that tie generations to one another.
About Ariel Lawhon
Ariel Lawhon is the co-founder of She Reads, novelist, blogger, storyteller, and life-long reader. She lives in Texas with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.