Surrounded By Story

Today’s post by Courtney Miller Santo, author of much-anticipated debut novel, THE ROOTS OF THE OLIVE TREE | @Courtney_Santo

Courtney Miller Santo

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.

Meet the Keller family, five generations of firstborn women—an unbroken line of daughters—living together in the same house on a secluded olive grove in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California.

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 author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

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27 Responses to Surrounded By Story

  1. Ashley August 20, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    So interested in this book! Love the premise. Can’t wait to give it a read, and thanks for sharing your heart and story!


  2. Susan Coster August 20, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    An Olive Tree stands for strength and I think that’s what the Keller family has……just by reading this short review. Would love to win a copy.

  3. Paula Dolin August 20, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Would love to win a copy of this book!

  4. Chris Sanders August 20, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Just the book’s description touches my heart, but also hit a nerve or two! Skeletons were always kept hidden on both sides of my family, yet we knew they existed! Whispers, overheard conversations, these let you know! Now that my parents and siblings are gone, I’ll never know the truth — and so I can’t pass these stories down! Plus, I have a few of my own, and since I grew up with this secrecy, I continue the pattern of secrecy!! Sounds like I need to read this book… I WANT to read this book… I want to STOP the secrecy!!! Thank you for being so open with your secrets!!

  5. Melinda K Taylor August 20, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I would love to read this book. I too, come from generations of women who have kept the family secrets,

  6. Polly Schneider August 20, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    It sounds like a great book. I would love to win a copy.

  7. Colleen S August 20, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    As children we needed our parents to be infallible. Now, as an adult, I need them to share those skeletons so I can deal with my failures a little bit easier. My parents have been life savers in my life, time and time again. Thank you God!

  8. Michael August 20, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Mom always knows better but sometimes I wonder if they do?

  9. Sheila Edney August 20, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Just bought the Kindle edition for $3.99!

  10. Audra August 20, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Yes, please!! I have this on my to read list now…

  11. marge michulsky August 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    I love to read and I LOVE stories about families. sounds like a winner.

  12. Linda A. August 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    This sounds like another good book. I would love to win it.

  13. Kathy August 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    The review of this book intrigues me. Adults tend to hide their true inner self from their offspring in order to preserve a sense of “decency” and appearance of having their lives well ordered in spite of a chaotic past. My own dysfunctional family attests to this premise. I would enjoy this book and the characters that are within.

  14. Tammy August 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    She Reads has some amazing books! I look forward to the book club selection each month. I especially love these sagas that weave through several generations of woemn.

  15. Melinda K Taylor August 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    So do I. It makes me appreciate families and the strong women in them. I think women are the fabric that holds the family together.

  16. JanellK August 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Your book is very appealling to me. I also enjoyed reading the Wilder books when I was younger.

  17. Jayne D. August 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    This sounds like a wonderful story and I would love to read it. I am always looking for a great story to read and this sounds like it.

  18. Heather Marsten August 21, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Your book sounds interesting. When I was in Israel we saw olive trees that were thousands of years old. Their roots grow deep. Have a blessed day.

  19. Linda F. August 21, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I can’t wait to read this book! I would love to win a copy. If I did win a copy, I would read it & then pass it on to my mom & sisters so we could all discuss a good book together:)

  20. Hetty August 21, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Great foundation for a good story — look forward to reading it soon!

  21. Shannon Brown August 21, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    This sounds so good!!! Already on my wishlist!!! Shannon

  22. Teresa Ahrenholtz August 21, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Looks like another good She Reads recommendations!

  23. Kim August 21, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    This sounds like a great story that I would love to read and share with all my sisters.

  24. SUSAN G. August 21, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Thanks for anothr opportunity to win another great book. This sounds like a story about most families I know… 🙂

  25. Debbie Morgan August 23, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    I can’t wait to read this book.

  26. Kathy August 25, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    This story sounds like my dysfunctional family! It would be a joy to read of how this group of women from a varying span of years manage to survive and thrive.

  27. Janibrani August 30, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Amazing the lengths families go to preserve those skeletons. It seems important that the secrets are kept, but that everyone knows that I know what they are. We want to protect those darling little pitchers from the smarmy, but it’s also imperative to whisper so they don’t blab it before reaching the age of discretion, right? Sounds like a very good read, and would love to have the actual book, though I do like my Kindle.

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