In my review of this author's recent book, One Summer's Night, I noted that I liked her fanciful novels, written as Mary Alice Kruesi, better than her straightforward women's fiction, written as Mary Alice Monroe. I may have to revise that opinion. The Four Seasons is an insightful, compelling portrayal of the joys and anguish of sisterhood, with just enough romance thrown in to appease readers who need that happily-ever-after.
Once, there were four Season sisters: Jilly, creative and headstrong; Birdie, achievement-oriented and bossy; Rose, shy and nurturing, and Merry, the baby. They spent their childhood playing make-believe games together in their large house in suburban Chicago. But just when Jilly reached adolescence and started to lose interest in childhood games, a devastating accident left Merry physically and mentally compromised, and sent the other sisters off on diverse paths. Jilly became more rebellious, Birdie more ambitious and Rose even more withdrawn.
The novel takes place approximately twenty-five years after this life-changing tragedy, when the sisters are reunited for Merry's funeral. The girls have maintained a polite distance during their adult lives, their former closeness long forgotten. But a final request from Merry is the catalyst for dramatic changes. Suddenly the sisters, along with Birdie's teenaged daughter Hannah, are off on a quest to find a missing family member who is a stranger to them all. Finding her will probably be painful, and might even cause more of a rift between the sisters. But they are determined to fulfill Merry's last wish, and to put an end to the silence that has haunted them for so many years.
Mary Alice Monroe dedicates The Four Seasons to her four sisters, and it's easy to tell that she writes about the sisterly bond from personal experience. She captures the myriad of emotions that define this unique relationship, including affection, anger and humor - all of which often emerge simultaneously. Each sister has been stuck in a defining but limiting role since Merry's accident, but now, forced together after years of barely keeping in touch, they rediscover the strength of their bond and the energy it provides.
As they re-establish their closeness, they take steps to change the patterns that have held them back. Jilly, who carries the heaviest baggage, finally eliminates the guilt and blame that led to a self-destructive path and three failed marriages. Birdie, outwardly successful with a husband, daughter and a medical career, realizes that she is a control freak who needs to loosen up or risk losing everything. Rose, a virtual recluse, finds a backbone and takes a chance on love with a virtual stranger.
As rewarding as the adult Seasons prove to be, my favorite parts of the book were the sisters' reminiscences about the wonderful fantasy play world they inhabited as children, when their house's attic was "The Upper Kingdom," the basement was "The Lower Kingdom," and the girls were all royalty of one kind or another. The flashback scenes were so sharp that they must be based, at least in part, on Monroe's own childhood.
I was disappointed by Mary Alice Monroe's most recent women's fiction, The Book Club, but The Four Seasons is much stronger, with more resonant dynamics among the main characters and a tighter plot. The highest compliment I can pay the novel is that it made me wish I had more than one sister.