Meredith, along with her two older sisters, Claudia and Ava, has not visited her childhood home, Aurelia (latin for “Golden”), in over a decade. A scuptor, Meredith resides in New York City, but has received word that the family farm her grandmother, Lavinia, so cherished will now be put on the auction block to pay off debts incurred by her first cousin, Cal, Jr., after he inherited Aurelia. But Cal, Jr. has been killed in an automobile accident.
Now Meredith must decide whether she has the fortitude to return the place where she enjoyed an idyllic childhood — until she was seven years old, at least. Aurelia comprised more than three thousand acres of golden Iowa cornfields. The Hathaway family was revered in the community for its success and, as a child, Meredith understood that, and felt special and privileged.
But now the farm lies in ruin and none of the surviving family members want anything to do with the land or the memories they carry with them. Yet Meredith feels she must return — perhaps to assuage her own guilt? She finds herself thrust back into the legacy of her determined, ruthless grandmother’s dream of elevating the family name to a place of honor, respectability, and prosperity — at any cost.
Author Nelle Davy was inspired by Robert Graves’ I Claudius to pen a tale of “family politics and the cruel machinations of an amoral matriarch . . . a story of hubris and ambition, but one with real devastation.” The result is her debut novel, The Legacy of Eden.
Meredith cared for the grandmother as she became elderly and frail. Sometimes coherent, sometimes not, Lavinia rambled on about the past, she revealed to Meredith the dark secrets she had zealously guarded — in some instances, for decades — beginning with how Lavinia met and married Meredith’s grandfather and how he came to inherit the family farm. Snippets of Meredith’s conversations with Lavinia are juxtaposed against the story of generations of Hathaways living and working together on Aurelia.
At the outset it is clear that Meredith and her two sisters are estranged, and none of them want to deal with the wreck that Aurelia has become, especially if it means returning there. Davy also immediately reveals that something horrible happened to Ava for which she blames Meredith. The source of Meredith’s guilt quickly becomes clear, but that is far from the end of this family saga. Finding out how the sisters’ lives amid people who, in Davy’s words, are willing to “sacrifice each other for their own ends” is intriguing and rewarding.
I chose to structure the novel this way because ultimately this is a tale about the women, and each of them has a pivotal role in their family’s history. . . .Though the farm is governed by men, it is the women who make this story, who guide their present, and who are instrumental in shaping their history.~ Author Nelle Davy
The Legacy of Eden is a morality play about a woman who grows up wanting much and sets out to make herself the envy of all her neighbors. Lavinia is socially awkward, but escapes her family of origin at the age of nineteen by marrying the town doctor who is thirty years her senior. That fails to improve her standing in the community, but when she recognizes an opportunity to establish herself as a member of the Hathaway family, she seizes it, abandoning not only her husband, but her very identity. She remains a recluse on the farm, as she convinces her new husband to erect a stately home on the land and gives birth to two sons, sure that they will be rightful heirs to the dynasty she is building. Lavinia is not just determined; she is ruthless.
Claudia, Ava, and Meredith, daughters of Lavinia’s son, Theo, are oblivious to the scheming and plotting of their grandmother. They are loved by their parents and content growing up in one of the smaller houses on the property as their father works the land with his brother, Ethan, and their grandfather. But when their father dies suddenly, their world collapses. As their mother struggles with her grief, Lavinia steps in, but the void left by their father is never filled and Meredith frequently ponders if things might have turned out differently had Theo lived.
Davy’s matriarchal drama features portraits of women who approach motherhood from vastly different perspectives. Lavinia’s domineering, manipulative personality is juxtaposed against that of her daughter-in-law, Georgia-May, who tolerates Ethan’s abuse until she reaches her own breaking point. Julia, the stepdaughter Lavinia despised from the outset, falls victim to Lavinia’s scheme to drive her away from Aurelia, abandoning her own child in the process and setting the stage for devastating events that play out years later. Piper, Lavinia’s never-married, powerless sister-in-law is a mother-figure to the girls, as well, while their own mother surprises them — and readers — when she becomes ensnared in Lavinia’s plot to ensure the future viability of Aurelia.
Ultimately, Meredith and her sisters must resolve their past, each in her own way, but it is Meredith’s journey that is at the heart of The Legacy of Eden. Haunted by the ghosts of the family members who played significant roles in her formative years, Meredith returns to Aurelia to face her demons, seeking closure and forgiveness. She has lived with the knowledge she gained during her grandmother’s final days but must make peace with the brutal reality that, despite all of Lavinia’s machinations, The Legacy of Eden is that nothing good comes from ill-gotten gains and personal sacrifice means nothing when it is undertaken at the expense of others. The Legacy of Eden is a multi-layered, tautly constructed story filled with intriguing characters and numerous plot twists. It is an impressive first work and I look forward to reading more from Davy.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of The Legacy of Eden free of charge from the author. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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