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“The Guest Book:” Identity, Isolation and An Island

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Even those who lead a charmed life can be gob-smacked in a second, the tightly woven fabric of life’s perfection unraveled in the time it takes an eye to blink. And what is the definition of charmed?

The Guest Book (Flatiron Books) by Sarah Blake is a multigenerational family saga about the life of the wealthy and well-bred Milton family. Kitty Milton has it all—a powerful, successful husband, a beautiful home in Manhattan, three beautiful kids, and all the money she could ever need. She basks in the good fortune that is her life until….in one moment, everything shifts, turning from golden to gray.

Ogden Milton is old money and head of Milton Higginson, one of the oldest and most respected investment banks in the world. His reputation for fairness and stability guides his fortune. But what of his relationship with the CEO of German Steel during the Nazi regime? When should morality take priority over business?

After the Miltons suffer a tragedy in 1935, Ogden buys Crockett’s Island in Penobscot Bay, Maine, trying to bring Kitty out of her depression. The large home becomes the identity of the Milton family—what makes them who they are. The island is their oasis, a peaceful escape from everything wrong in the world. Their own private bubble of happiness. But the island is also a statement of both who they are and who they aren’t.

The Milton family adheres to the motto of doing the best one can. What’s done cannot be undone, history happens to others. Knowing what you can’t have and instead accepting what you are given and moving forward with honor and grace. On the surface, this sounds like a stalwart plan. However, when confronted with blatant injustice, is the motto a positive force or convenient scapegoat?

Each Milton child is expected to fulfill his or her destiny—son Moss working at the bank, and the girls marrying well and raising families. But what if their desires don’t match their parents’ expectations? Moss does his best to be his father’s son, but regardless of how fast he runs, he can never catch up. Who he is doesn’t fit into the Milton family legacy, it seems he’s always on the outside looking in. And Moss and his sister Joan both dare to fall in love with the wrong people.

Len Levy is Jewish, and his best friend Reg Pauling is black. Each is important to certain members of the Milton family. But when they attend a Milton barbeque on the island, their presence threatens the Milton’s sense of security, popping their bubble of comfort. Exposed secrets might just tear the Milton family apart.

The Guest Book examines the attitudes of the Anglo elite toward those who are different. The members of Jewish, African American and LGBTQ+ communities are pleasant enough guests to the Milton sphere, but have no true place in their world. The Miltons pretend everyone is equal, hiding the true feelings under impeccable manners. But actions speak louder than words, and their lack of voice speaks loudest of all. Silence protects the story of their white protestant lives.

Blake explores the issues of race, sexual identity, and being true to oneself. What happens when these things don’t fit into familial and social expectations? Life is not perfect. How we deal with the imperfections is what ultimately defines us. The Guest Book begs an answer to the question of responsibility—must we meet expectations of society or accept people for who they are?

It’s not enough to just know the truth. We have to take action and do something about it.

The Guest Book will be available to purchase May 7, 2019.

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ABOUT SARAH BLAKE:

Photo Credit: Liz Norton

Sarah Blake is the author of the novels Grange House and the New York Timesbestseller The Postmistress. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two sons.

K. L. Romo writes about life on the fringe: teetering dangerously on the edge is more interesting than standing safely in the middle. She is passionate about women’s issues, loves noisy clocks and fuzzy blankets, but HATES the word normal. Visit KLRomo.com or @klromo.

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