The reference to “six granddaughters” in the title of this dark, complex novel is deceiving: two are dead. One dies as an infant and pulls a shroud of everlasting grief over the family, and the other narrates the entire novel from beyond the grave while she floats in an afterlife. At the heart of the novel is Cecilia, a beautiful poet who is perceived as being the most talented and attractive among the granddaughters. Nonetheless, she is plagued by many demons, not the least of which is abuse at the hands of a mysterious man. Cecilia’s struggle to deal with a brutal encounter ties the generations together and explores the connection between trauma and art. The family’s violent last name becomes symbolic of the tragedies that befall the family stretching back three generations; their grandmother is committed to a mental institution after a nervous breakdown, Cecilia’s mother survives the Holocaust as a child by being the sexual plaything of a Nazi, one uncle is lecherous, and others die, often prematurely, of cancer. Susan Hahn’s profession as a prolific poet is apparent in the novel’s vivid, elegant language. The many characters are easy to confuse at first (wisely, Hahn includes a family tree), and her attempt to cover so many lives results in a feeling of distance; focusing on Cecilia might have made this story more powerful. Nevertheless, Hahn’s work is a compelling rumination on how dark family secrets can carry through generations; the haunting images she dwells upon are ones that linger long after the book is done.
By Adrienne Urbanski