I’ve spent a few weeks in my family home in June and as I finished the book I brought with me I ventured into my mum’s library, you’ll see several reviews of the books I picked up there. This time I found a reread, I’ve read Little Altars Everywhere years ago, either towards the end of high school or at the beginning of my studies. I didn’t remember the book at all and only remembered it was the first one of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood cycle when I started reading it.
Those of you that read Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood will remember it was a quite light-hearted read. Yes, people were getting hurt and life was not always perfect, but there was nothing that could not be fixed by an afternoon cocktail with your dearest friends. Or at least that’s the impression that stayed with me. This book is very, very different.
The action takes place in two timelines, the 1960s and 1990s, as the family of Vivi Abbott remembers their lives. Every chapter is narrated by a different family member or servant, so we are able to see various perspectives of the same events. Also, a lot of the memories are tinged with the aura of nostalgia. Still, the harsh truth comes out.
It is a dark portrait of a deeply damaged family. All hidden secrets come to light as Vivi’s children remember their childhood. One that was full of sun, long summer days and crazy fun, but also one that was marked with drinking, violence and abuse. We experience full sunlight with the deepest shadows. We get to know how childhood experiences affected Siddalee, Little Shep, Baylor and Lulu and how they all try to deal with them.
The focus here is on the children, Ya-Yas are present but more in the background as Vivi battles her demons. It is a beautiful book, one that will make you smile and remember your favourite summers. It is also a horrible book, one that will make you shudder thinking what the Abbott kids went through and how back then it could not be resolved or acted upon. It is a very human book, in the sense that it seeks to understand the reasons for people’s actions, but not to forgive or justify those that are unforgivable. There is no happy end here, there’s also no bad ending, just as in life things go on.