... dense, sprawling ... The novel moves fluidly between generations, often within the same chapter. No guideposts steer the reader through the numerous shifts in point-of-view. Blake seems to be advising readers to pay attention ... Racism, anti-Semitism, and sexism give the book much of its heart-crushing pathos ... a magnificent, big feast of a book. Richly plotted and powerfully written, The Guest Book also offers meaty themes and strong characters. It is a story that readers will welcome losing themselves in.
Blake is an accomplished storyteller...She's also hip to the fact that this kind of lush historical novel — tied to the annual visits of a wealthy clan gathering to crack lobster tails by the sea — absolutely reeks of off-putting privilege and literary mothballs. No matter: The Guest Book proudly owns the appeal of an old-fashioned sweeping storyline, and in so doing, complicates many of its characters beyond their shallow first impressions. In fact, one of the most engaging characters here defends the essential human yearning for a good story.
While the book offers a glimpse into the lives of the Miltons, it also reveals much about America – a place of such wildly disparate experiences ... Gliding back and forth across the generations, she captures the consequences of decisions, of buried secrets, and of shifting societal norms ... Some readers might find it difficult to garner sympathy for the Miltons, buffered as they are by wealth and privilege. Instead, they might want to look upon the book as a timely metaphor for the American story.
This is very much a novel about what is left unsaid, which is ironic considering that so much is said — hundreds and hundreds of pages of repressed grief and strained smiles. Despite its dramatic opening, the bulk of the story is far more immersive than propulsive ... This rare species of gilded immutability is easy to mock, but it’s difficult to locate the author’s sympathies. Blake...seems to waver between satirizing these people and romanticizing their opulence ... ... Perhaps it’s appropriate that The Guest Book feels as conflicted about its values as several generations of Miltons do — or maybe I’m just trying to stabilize my feelings toward this frustrating novel. There’s no denying that Blake writes powerfully about these people ... Indeed, The Guest Book is monumental in a way that few novels dare attempt. But is the loss of a $3.5 million vacation home a relevant subject for a great American novel at this moment? Or does the whole lyrical enterprise feel overwrought, even precious?
Blake’s breathtaking saga...begins in full with a lush, sweeping overture, though it carries its own kind of chilling undertow. Think Gershwin, Copeland, Ellington ... Blake saturates each scene with sensuous and emotional vibrancy while astutely illuminating sensitive moral quandaries ... Blake deftly interrogates the many shades of prejudice and 'the ordinary, everyday wickedness of turning away.'