This is a story of one family the Whitshanks. Red and Abbey have four children – Denny, Amanda, Jeanine and Stem (Douglas). Our first introduction to Denny is when he rings his father to tell him he is gay. We soon learn this is not true and Denny is provocative and attention seeking, flitting from job to job and in and out of relationships. Yet Denny still needs that sense of belonging, bringing his daughter to family gatherings at the beach and his resentment of Stem when he moves in to look after Abby.
The author gives us two stories which are important in forming the family’s identity and giving them a sense of history. Junior Whitshank and Linnie Mae who are Red’s parents and Junior’s sister, Merrick. The first points to the importance of the house on Bolton Road and tells of Junior’s craftsmanship and pride in building it, almost becoming a character in the book, like Hardy’s moor in Return of the Native.
Merrick like her father wants to better herself and this is demonstrated in her attitude and marriage. This makes her appear slightly snobby, yet she does not believe in waste and before she goes away she beings the family her leftovers.
The novel ends with Red leaving the house which feels fitting as it has been such a large part of the story. Denny goes back to his current partner with renewed determination to make it work, making you feel that he has somehow matured, and learned something from his experience.
By establishing the characters and their relationships first, before the shift in time to Merrick and Junior’s back stories is smoother and easier to follow. These two family stories also provides a link to the past and makes the non-linear structure much easier to follow. The shift in time also contributes to a shift in perception, as we learn more about the characters our view of them changes, especially Stem.