Mason's Retreat

Christopher Tilghman, Author
Christopher Tilghman, Author Random House (NY) $22 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-42712-4
Reviewed on: 04/01/1996
Release date: 04/01/1996
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-312-15586-5
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-679-45163-1
Hardcover - 402 pages - 978-0-7838-1863-4
Hardcover - 978-0-517-17514-9
Paperback - 295 pages - 978-0-8129-7624-3
Hardcover - 978-0-517-30704-5
Hardcover - 304 pages - 978-0-09-973271-6
Hardcover - 290 pages - 978-0-7011-6563-5
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-1-250-01607-2
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Christopher Tilghman. Random, $22 (336p) ISBN 0-679-42712-0 A magnificent meditation on the dynamics of family relationships and the consequences of selfishness and pride down through generations, Tilghman's first novel places him securely in the ranks of our most accomplished writers. In 1936, at the height of the Depression, a nearly destitute Edward Mason, his business in England on the verge of bankruptcy, his marriage shaky, decides to return to America to try to wrest a living from his family's estate on Maryland's Eastern shore. The Retreat, as the mansion is called, is a rotting derelict, and the 1000-acre farm is badly in need of cash and a firm hand. With the help of two black servants, Edward's dutiful wife, Edith, restores the house; hostile, restless Sebastien, 14, discovers his identity on the farm, working alongside Robert, the black laborer, learning to sail and feeling himself centered and fulfilled for the first time. Hard-shelled, blundering Edward hates the place, however, and when war seems imminent in Europe, he returns to England to revitalize his factory by making aircraft parts. Simon, the Masons' second son, is devoted to his father and misses him terribly, but Sebastien thrives. Edith, who has been betrayed by Edward in the past, begins an affair with the son of an arriviste (the antithesis of the Mason preoccupation with class distinctions). When a newly prosperous Edward learns of the liaison and returns, determined to bear his family back to England, it is wrenchingly clear to Edith that in restoring the nuclear entity she will nurture Simon but deprive Sebastien of his spiritual haven. Sebastien's desperate strategy to avoid leaving the farm, ironically futile in any case because his father has secretly betrayed him in yet another way, crests on the current of portent that ripples under Tilghman's lyrical, resonant prose. As in his luminous story collection, In a Father's Place, Tilghman elegantly evokes both the physical landscape and the hermetic society and inbred culture of the Chesapeake Bay area, where old families live at the edge of ruin and distinguished bloodlines are all that is left of a proud and arrogant way of life. In supple and beautifully inflected prose, he makes astute observations about the enduring blight of racism, the fallibility of human nature, the sacrifice of children as hostages to fortune and the inevitability of retribution-all conveyed with an illuminating, unflinching but compassionate eye. (Apr.)
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