Title: The Legacy
Author: Katherine Webb
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“When they were children, Erica Calcott and her sister, Beth, spent their summer holidays at Storton Manor. Now, following the death of their grandmother, they have returned to the grand, imposing house in Wiltshire, England. Unable to stem the tide of childhood memories that arise as she sorts through her grandmother’s belongings, Erica thinks back to the summer her cousin Henry vanished mysteriously from the estate, an event that tore their family to pieces. It is time, she believes, to lay the past to rest, bring her sister some peace, and finally solve the mystery of her cousin’s disappearance.
But sifting through remnants of a bygone time is bringing a secret family history to light—one that stretches back over a century, to a beautiful society heiress in Oklahoma, a haunting, savage land across the ocean. And as past and present converge, Erica and Beth must come to terms with two shocking acts of betrayal . . . and the heartbreaking legacy they left behind.”
Thoughts: Every person hopes or expects or predicts that s/he will choose the better path at a time of intense crises, the nobler one that would highlight their humanity, their sympathy, and their core values. However, humans being what they are, what happens when someone chooses the wrong path? How long and how far do the reverberations echo from such a decision? Are the sins of the father truly handed down to the sins of the son? Such is the mystery behind Katherine Webb’s The Legacy.
The Legacy is really broken up into two stories – one following Erica and Beth’s great-grandmother Caroline through her journey from New York to Oklahoma and finally to England, and the other about Erica and Beth’s mysterious past. Each story is strong enough to stand alone, while the juxtapositions between past and present are as smooth as can be expected when jumping back and forth through time as the story does. More importantly, a reader is able to pick up the plot lines without hesitation. It is this interweaving of the two story lines that really showcases Ms. Webb’s storytelling abilities.
One of the strengths of The Legacy is its detailed presentation of life at the turn of the century. From the social constraints regarding intimacy and proper etiquette, to the constantly changing technology in the form of cars and telegraphs, to the wide open plains and vast foreignness of Oklahoma, a reader truly becomes immersed into Caroline’s world. One can almost feel the sheer torture of corsets binding one’s waist in the suffocating heat that is an Oklahoma summer. It is as clear and graphic a picture of life on a turn-of-the-century ranch that a reader can experience. As Caroline’s experiences take her into three very different worlds, the transitions between the three settings are as jarring for the reader as they are for Caroline, and only add to the reader’s ability to empathize with Caroline’s growing sense of bewilderment and despair.
The Legacy is a story of love and loss, family secrets and friendship. Simply told, Ms. Webb lets her characters represent the story rather than force-feeding it to her readers. Lush descriptions allow the reader to experience feelings similar to Caroline’s aching loneliness and insignificance and Erica’s sense of homecoming and rediscovering. Not only is The Legacy a beautiful story, but it does force the reader to consider how our actions impact our family, both immediate and future.