Jean Stafford’s third and final novel, The Catherine Wheel, is a mordant tour de force concerning the gradual disintegration of a woman under pressures both societal and self-imposed.
Katharine Congreve, a Boston society figure, is summering at her country house in Hawthorne, Maine, in the late 1930s, looking after the children of her cousin Maeve, as she does every year. Maeve and her husband, John Shipley, spend their summers in Europe, leaving their son and two daughters in Katharine’s care, but something is different this time: Shipley has promised to leave his wife for Katharine if his failing marriage with Maeve can’t be revived before the end of their vacation.
Alone with the frivolous Honor and Harriet, teenage twins, and the younger Andrew, who seems to be hiding a private anguish of his own, Katharine must contend with her envy, her memories, her expectations, and her guilt. Under the watchful eyes of her charges and neighbors, a hint of madness is soon revealed at the heart of a happy, lazy New England summer