The Guest Book by Sarah Blake. New York: Flatiron, 2019. 486 pages. *****
It is 1935 and Ogden and Kitty Milton have the perfect marriage. Their life is untouched by the stock market crash of 1929, which was the worst economic event in world history. They live in a high rise in New York City, untouched until an unthinkable accident occurs. Ogden purchases a house on Crockett's island in an attempt to woo Kitty back into the world of the living; nothing in their WASP backgrounds has prepared them for an unexpected loss. Blake's premise is that each of us has a defining moment in our lives that will alter the course of our future. Kitty's "no" uttered on a porch in 1936 will haunt her for the rest of her life. Three generations of Milton’s have different memories and experiences in the house on Crockett Island, but its hold and the reasons to keep it in the family overshadow the present generation left as caretakers with no funds to continue the legacy. Each visitor to the island and house must sign the Guest book which serves as a reminder of happier times.
Told in alternating voices and time periods, Blake has a magical way with words that transported me to the time and place in this story. The sights and the sounds on the island enriches her message and serves as a stark contrast to the issues of race, economic superiority, and privilege. Drawn immediately into the story, I was hooked on wanting to know more about the Miltons. Nothing in their privileged background prepares them for the challenges and changes that their children and grandchildren will face. This is a book that will haunt me, the story seems prophetic to today's changing values. What is the defining moment in my life, will I recognize it and answer selflessly or like Kitty will I only think of myself? I've read some reviews of this book and they are not favorable, I have to question if we read the same book? I absolutely recommend this book for Book Clubs and some stimulating discussion.
Sarah Blake is the author of the novels, Grange House and the internationally best-selling The Postmistress; a chapbook of poems, Full Turn; and Runaway Girls, an artist book in collaboration with the artist, Robin Kahn. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, the poet Joshua Weiner, and their two sons.