The Goodbye Cousins by Maggie Leffler
Di, short for Diotima, was born in Pittsburgh. After her parent’s divorce and her father’s remarriage when she was eleven, her psychic mother kidnapped her and took her to Europe. There, she was constantly on the move. Her mother loved her, but she moved around a lot and never really made any strong connections with other people. The one exception was Alecia, her cousin. After her mother’s death and the subsequent death of her father, whom she only spoke to once after the kidnapping, she returns to Pittsburgh as a single mother with a toddler son. Without a place to stay, she and Max move into Alecia’s apartment wth her fiance, Ben. The cousins couldn’t be more different. Di is an earth mother while Alecia is entirely focused on her career. Alecia takes control of situations whereas Di is impetuous. The close proximity, Alecia and Ben’s increasingly distant relationship, and Di’s lack of financial resources puts a strain on the cousins. They may have found family in each other, but is that enough?
The Goodbye Cousins is a novel about how relationships impact and define our lives. Both women come from difficult home lives. Alecia’s father is a wealthy man and he dotes on her, but he is also extremely controlling. They both dismissed Alecia’s mother from their lives once her mental illness made living with her unbearable. Di’s mother might not have been crazy, but she kept her daughter from a loving father out of a mixture of fear and spite. Their experiences might have been different, but they could relate to each other in ways no other person could.
There is a very strong sense of place in this novel. I’ve enjoyed visiting there frequently after my godmother moved there 20 years ago. Street names and references to Fox Chapel took me back to my visits with Aunt Donna. I also found the characters like the landscapers to feel like authentic Pittsburghers. When you get such a good sense of where the story takes place, it makes other aspects of the novel fall into place as well. Aspects of the novel that didn’t feel complete or didn’t work for me, such as the discovery of what precipitated Di and Roxanne’s abrupt disappearance, were smoothed over by how true to place the novel is as a whole.
The Goodbye Cousins begins as a letter from Di to her son Max. Although I understand Di’s motivation to let her son know about his family, Di’s near omniscient narration of the story of her return from Europe and her reunion with Alecia didn’t always work well for me. I liked Di and her voice was fresh and interesting, but her ability to have known almost everything that was going on with other people drew me out of the story from time to time.
I very much enjoyed reading The Goodbye Cousins. Maggie Leffler’s characters are interesting and her writing was smooth. Di was a lovable character and I thought her struggles to be a good person and a good mother were heartwarming. While preparing to write this review, I discovered that The Goodbye Cousins is a sequel to Maggie Leffler’s first novel, The Diagnosis of Love. I wouldn’t have guessed that. The first novel focused on Alecia’s fiance’s twin sister. Although Holly does play a role in this novel and she is an interesting character, I would never have guessed this novel to be a sequel. As with Belong To Me, I don’t think that reading a sequel first impacted my reading or “ruined” the first novel for me. I think this story speaks to women of all ages. This book would be a perfect choice for a relaxing read in your hammock with a cool breeze and a cold beverage of your choice.
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