While always well-stocked with clean sheets, Lily Hill is not expecting visitors. At least not in the numbers that descend upon her genteely dilapidated New England ancestral home in the summer of ’89. Brother Harvey arrives first, thrice-widowed and eager for company; then perennially self-dramatizing niece Ginger and her teenaged daughter Betsy; then Alden, just laid-off from Wall Street, with his wife Becky, and their rowdy brood of four . . . As summer fades into fall, it becomes clear that no one intends to leave. But just as Lily’s industrious hospitality gives way to a somewhat strained domestic routine, the Hill clan must face new challenges together. Brimming with wit and a compendium of Yankee curiosities, The Hills at Home is an irresistible modern take on an old-fashioned comedy of manners.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
That rare bird, a sparkling domestic comedy of manners, has alighted at the Hill home in a small community north of Boston, where various family members gather for shelter and succor during an unsettled period in their lives. Aging spinster Lily Hill, a stoic remnant of old Yankee stock, lives in the imposing but gently deteriorating Victorian house, and good manners prevent her from turning away the importunate visitors who settle into their ancestral manse and proceed to play out a farce of WASP gentility. The first arrival during the summer of 1989 is Lily's hearty brother, Harvey, widowed three times but still available and randy. Then Lily's histrionic, self-involved niece Ginger turns up with her teenaged daughter in tow, having decided to divorce her husband back in Kansas. Ginger's brother, Alden, fired from his Wall Street job, arrives next, with his earth-mother wife, Becky, and four children. Harvey's grandson, an aspiring stand-up comic, brings his girlfriend. Then nonrelatives start to pile up: a graduate student writing a thesis on WASP culture, a disgraced diplomat, a lovesick exchange student and other visitors bring complications and romance, culminating in a raid by the FBI. Debut novelist Clark observes this segment of New England gentry with an unsparing but affectionate eye. The spartan, tasteless meals; the leaking roof and inadequate furnace; the "four inches of warmish bath water, the 40-watt bulbs"; the frugal dispensation of financial resources; and a wedding where everyone "was dressed as if Talbot's had exploded" are brush strokes in a colorful and lively portrait of an eccentric family. Though the plot meanders in the middle section, Clark brings all the details together at the end, when even minor events are shown to have meaning and coalesce in a satisfying denouement. Warm and amusing, this novel has the old-fashioned virtue of good writing paired with a sprightly plot.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 07, 2004
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Excerpt from The Hills at Home by Nancy Clark
The Hills Come Home
Outside, the night blew perfectly foul and all of the Hills had stayed home. Rain flung itself by the fistful against the clapboards, rain spangled the windowpanes, and the rain bore down so hard against the roof that shots bounced up from the slates and rained down again in shattery shards and splinters. The wind wheeled round and the startled rain skidded sideways. The rain sought, the rain battered, the rain invaded. This was an extravagant rain, as if somewhere, somehow, someone, miserly and profligate in turn, had been amassing rain until he possessed enough to hurl down fiercely and decisively upon the helplessly spinning earth.
The house stood alone out in the relative countryside of what used to be known as an old Yankee town, no longer situated so very far to the north of Boston. The house, whose rows of windows were goldenly, blurrily alight against the ragings of the night, could only be half seen, through the tattered last of the October leaves, from a high point on the River Road which was, at present, mildly flooding along its low point. Drivers-by, the few drivers-by taking the windy route easy over the shimmery beech-leaf litter lying like slippery minnows across the pavement, thought the house resembled nothing so much as an ocean liner caught in elegant passage gliding toward a farther horizon. To enhance the passers-by fancies, a sea-salt and sea-creature whiff of mudflats was conveyed upon the east wind as it soughed through an opened dashboard vent, conversational fog having whitened the windshield of a dark sedan nosing up the road.
"I understand Lily has her hands full," said its driver, a woman who knew a little of the Hills' situation, "with that crew she's got there with her these days."
"Oh?" asked her companions, encouragingly.
But if this was not a night to be out, this was not necessarily a night to be in. As the rain hardened, basins and pots were fetched from the closets where they were stored between storms and positioned beneath the usual roof leaks. The telephones kept ringing themselves, blurting or bewailingly pealing, and the electricity flickered off and on to add another element to everyone's measure of unease. There had been a single daybright bolt of lightning and one warning growl of thunder earlier and no one in the house quite yet dared to run the risk of making toast.
They, that crew, Lily's family, had all come for visits the summer past and none of them had gone away again in the fall. The weekend stretched into a week, the week became weeks, the weeks accumulated into a month, the months made up a season, and then the season changed. Oh, Lily ought to have been warier. Their suitcases ought to have struck her as having been very thoroughly packed as she bumped their luggage up the stairs and hefted the ornery, strapped-shut grips onto the foots of their freshly made-up beds. She ought to have let their bags languish in the front hall wherever they had dropped them, however underfoot their effects might have remained, there where they were, crumpling the carpet pattern and nicking the shaky old legs of the deacon's bench and tripping up the careless returnees who would be too excitedly chattering and ranging about all at once on sorties of rediscovery and reclamation to mind their ways.