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From “one of the most perceptive, compassionate writers of fiction in America...immensely talented and brave” (Michael Schaub, NPR), a historical saga about love, class, and the past we never escape.
The Peacock Feast opens on a June day in 1916 when Louis C. Tiffany, the eccentric glass genius, dynamites the breakwater at Laurelton Hall—his fantastical Oyster Bay mansion, with columns capped by brilliant ceramic blossoms and a smokestack hidden in a blue-banded minaret—so as to foil the town from reclaiming the beach for public use. The explosion shakes both the apple crate where Prudence, the daughter of Tiffany’s prized gardener, is sleeping and the rocks where Randall, her seven-year-old brother, is playing.
Nearly a century later, Prudence receives an unexpected visit at her New York apartment from Grace, a hospice nurse and the granddaughter of Randall, who Prudence never saw again after he left at age fourteen for California. The mementos Grace carries from her grandfather’s house stir Prudence’s long-repressed memories and bring her to a new understanding of the choices she made in work and love, and what she faces now in her final days.
Spanning the twentieth century and three continents, The Peacock Feast ricochets from Manhattan to San Francisco, from the decadent mansions of the Tiffany family to the death row of a Texas prison, and from the London consultation room of Anna Freud to a Mendocino commune. With psychological acuity and aching eloquence, Lisa Gornick has written a sweeping family drama, an exploration of the meaning of art and the art of dying, and an illuminating portrait of how our decisions reverberate across time and space.
Gornick (Louisa Meets Bear) braids the lives of three generations across a span of 100 years in this vivid novel. In 2013, Prudence Theet is 101, and she meets Grace O'Connor, her great-niece, for the first time. Prudence's brother Randall had disappeared from his family at the age of 14, and Grace informs Prudence that he had a son. As the two women begin telling each other about their lives, Prudence reaches as far back as the early 1900s, when her parents worked for the famous designer/artist Louis C. Tiffany on Long Island. Prudence recalls Tiffany's decision to destroy the section of breakwater that fronted his mansion, because local residents wished to reclaim it for public use, and his eccentric Peacock Feast in 1914, in which his children and other children presented roasted peacock to "men of genius": "On each tray, there's a peacock, its rainbow plumage... tangled with its porter's long loose hair." Grace's memories are of life with her twin brother, Garcia, after they were born in a 1960s commune and abandoned by their parents to Grandfather Randall, who then raised them. As Grace and Prudence fill in gaps for one another, such as the details of Randall's disappearance and subsequent life, a withheld memory reemerges from Prudence's childhood experiences. Gornick's prose is strong throughout; this is an intricately threaded story of family, secrets, loss, and closure.