cover image The Last Summer of Ada Bloom

The Last Summer of Ada Bloom

Martine Murray. Tin House, $15.95 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-947793-61-3

Murray’s masterful adult debut (after the Cedar B. Hartley and Henrietta children’s series) explores a family’s fraught relationships in a small Australian town in the early 1980s. Awakened during a sweltering, mosquito-plagued night, nine-year-old Ada sees her father, Mike, having sex with a family friend. In the morning, Ada tells her older sister, Tilly, that she saw their father doing “something bad.” Tilly confronts Mike to no avail, which drives a wedge between him and his daughters. The girls also struggle with their mother, Martha, who treats 17-year-old Tilly especially coldly, leading Ben, the 15-year-old favorite middle child, to conclude that Martha must be jealous of Tilly’s talent on the piano. Murray nimbly illustrates the tensions running through the family using various points of view, describing emotions and events with fluid precision. A glimpse of Tilly “like a just-opened flower” sends Martha into a “sudden tumult of yearning for her own youth and the familiar tang of regret that she had lost it.” As the second act unfolds, the married couple’s entwined relationship with Mike’s college friend Arnold emerges through a series of eerie scenes that illuminate the roots of Martha’s bitterness, as well as Mike’s compulsion toward infidelity. Murray’s unflinching, intuitive tale will satisfy readers who like their family dramas with a strong dose of darkness. (Apr.)