After a tragedy befalls the Milton family, Ogden Milton tries to console his wife by purchasing an island in Maine. That island, and its house, come to define and burnish the Milton family for three generations.
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.
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.'