Cover image for Circle of three : a novel
Circle of three : a novel
Gaffney, Patricia.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, [2000]

Physical Description:
421 pages ; 25 cm
Geographic Term:

Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf
FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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"Gaffney's characters are appealing and realistic...Readers will race through this book."
--New Orleans Times Picayune

"Poignant....Entertaining....As good as it gets."
--New York Post

No other author writes about the lives and friendships of women with more warmth and grace than New York Times bestseller Patricia Gaffney. A true master of women's fiction, with Circle of Three she flourishes the same breathtaking characterization and storytelling skills that made her previous novel, The Saving Graces, a readers' favorite. The story of a woman grieving for her losses and her life, and her relationship with her overbearing mother and precocious young daughter, Circle of Three focuses on three generations of a troubled family, the anger and misunderstanding that separates them...and the love that holds them together. Gaffney does beautifully what Elizabeth Berg, Anne Rivers Siddons, and Anne Tyler also do so well: exploring the tricky bonds of family in novels both heart-soaring and heartbreaking.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In her latest offering, Gaffney, author of The Saving Graces [BKL My 1 99], explores the effects, both good and bad, that mothers and daughters have on each other. When Carrie and Stephen move back to the small Virginia college town that she couldn't wait to escape, she realizes that it was her mother and not the town that she needed to leave. She's not altogether happy with her marriage, either, and starts an argument with her husband in the car just to get a reaction, but his response is far more dramatic than she intended: he has a fatal heart attack. As Carrie struggles to support herself and her teenage daughter, Ruth, she reflects on her life and sees that she married a man as remote as her father out of her lifelong habit of seeking her mother's approval, which induced her to give up Jess, her one true love, when her mother objected to their relationship. Ruth remains her only solace, until Jess reenters her life by asking her to help him help a neighbor who has formed a religious group called the Arkists who want to build a replica of Noah's ark. Carrie agrees, and becomes romantically involved with Jess once again, but this time around Ruth disapproves, thus bringing all three generations of women full circle. Gaffney has each woman narrate in turn, providing added dimension to this poignant story of growing up and growing old. --Patty Engelmann

Publisher's Weekly Review

Three generations of small-town Virginia womenÄtroubled teen Ruth Van Allen, her equally insecure mother, Carrie Van Allen, and bossy grandmother Dana DanzigerÄstruggle to overcome personal problems and self-absorption to grow closer as a family in Gaffney's sweepingly sentimental novel. When Carrie's unfeeling husband Stephen suddenly dies of a heart attack, she desperately wants to bounce back into the arms of divorced farmer Jess Deeping, her conveniently available high school sweetheart. Problem is, Dana never approved of this once wild boy whose rough and rural upbringing reminds her too much of the verbally abusive country home she tried so hard to escape by marrying spineless academic George. Dana also harrumphs Carrie's interest in helping Jess reproduce a miniature Noah's Ark to honor the request of dying Arkist religious cult member Eldon Pletcher. Nevertheless, early on in this sprawling book it becomes clear that, after much flaky deliberation, Carrie will get a second chance with the man she's always loved. Meanwhile, Ruth is experimenting with a perpetually stoned boyfriend and a job at a health-food store, and trying to get over the shock of her father's death. Gaffney (The Saving Graces) relies too heavily on stale pop cultural references and language in telling Ruth's story, and male characters take a lot of abuse in this female-centric drama. Nevertheless, she turns out some resonant scenes, including one in which steely grandma Dana finally admits to an addiction. Though handicapped by transparent characterizations and poor pacing, the novel offers a reliable if predictable emotional roller-coaster ride. Literary Guild/Doubleday Book Club selection. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The latest novel from Gaffney (The Saving Graces) follows three generations of women through one tumultuous year. The book centers on recently widowed Carrie, who sees the grieving process as a chance to reinvent herself. But for Ruth, her 15-year-old daughter, it simply precipitates the onset of parent/child separation. Dana, Carrie's 70-year-old mother, isn't grieving; she's too busy trying to direct her daughter's life. Each chapter unfolds from a different first-person perspective, and the result is choppy and superficial. The chapters follow chronologically, but there is little sense of time passing, even though time is so critical to the grieving process. Angst-ridden Ruth is realistically drawn, but the character of Dana is wasted. Because Carrie, the main attraction, views herself as wimpy, her sections are dull. Ultimately, she undergoes little true character development, merely finding a new man to replace the old one rather than developing inner strength. Public libraries should purchase on demand. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/00.]ÄJodi L. Israel, MLS, Jamaica Plain, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Nature's Way It's natural to feel guilty after the death of a loved one. Guilt and grief go together - that's what they say. Because you're still alive, I suppose. Well, lots of things are "natural," including infanticide in some cultures. My teenage daughter's extremely odd friend Raven recently shared with me that the female coot pecks to death all but two of her baby chicks because feeding them just gets to be too big a hassle. It's nature's way. The presumption behind the guilt-is-natural bromide is that one hasn't actually done anything to precipitate the loved one's death. And there's the rub. I provoked my husband into an argument five minutes before he smashed the car into a tree and killed himself (That wasn't the only thing I did, but it's the showiest.) An incredibly stupid argument: why couldn't he drive Ruth to her soccer tournament the next day, why did I always have to do it? When was the last time he'd gone to a parent-teacher conference, a science fair, anything? In six years Ruth would be twenty-one and out of his life; did he really want to spend the rest of his only child's adolescence shut up in his office grading papers and writing - yes, I said this - obscure articles on mathematical minutiae that even more obscure journals only published once in a blue moon? It was eleven o'clock, a Friday night. We were driving home after dinner with my parents, a dinner Stephen hadn't wanted to go to in the first place - but then he never did, so I don't take that so much to heart; I forgive myself for that. He said he was tired, but I thought nothing of it. Ruth, thank God, thank God, wasn't with us; she'd gone to a birthday sleepover at a girlfriend's. I'd spent the evening keeping a tense peace, smoothing over this, rephrasing that. My mother always liked Stephen, I'm not sure why, but he never liked her, and to this day she doesn't know it. That's my doing. For eighteen years, the length of our marriage, I constantly respun and reinterpreted his rudeness to her, at times his outright contempt. "He's thinking higher thoughts," I'd joke when he couldn't bother to come out of his study when Mama made one of her (admittedly irritating) unannounced drop-ins. And she's so easily intimidated by what she takes for intellectual superiority - except, interestingly, where my father's concerned - so it was never hard to make her believe that Stephen wasn't cold and disdainful, no, he was a genius. Geniuses are eccentric and brusque, they keep to themselves, they don't have time to be ingratiating to their mothers-in-law. What triggered the argument in the car was fear. I had seen something that night that scared me: a sickening similarity between my husband and my father. Getting angry at Stephen, trying to get a rise out of him, trying to make him yell at me - that would've been ideal - was a way to convince myself I'd seen no such thing. My father, George Danziger, taught English literature at Remington College for forty years. He recently retired, to write a book with a colleague on some minor eighteenth-century poet whose name I've forgotten. My father is a short, heavyset man, balding, slope-shouldered; he has a paunch; he slouches; pipe ash usually litters his vest or his coat sleeve. He frequently wears a vacant expression, and I suppose he's as close to the cliché of the absentminded professor as a human, as opposed to a cartoon, can be. But there's still a rumpled dignity in his sagging face and his gentle, phlegmatic movements, at least to me. Stephen was his physical opposite. Medium tall with a hard, compact, runner's body, he had handsome, sharp-pointed features - like Ruth's - and a full head of crisp, curling, sandy-gray hair. Quick, economical gestures. And always a restlessness about him, an impatience with his surroundings that could be insulting if you took it personally. Mama and I did the dishes while the men went outside so Pop could smoke his pipe, a forbidden pleasure in my mother's house. I watched them idly through the kitchen windowstanding beside the wrought iron table in the late-August hush, their shoulders hunched, chins pulled into the collars of their short-sleeved shirts. They didn't have much to say to each other, but then, they never did. The college was all they had in common, and Stephen still, after three years, secretly resented Pop for his help, such as it was, in getting him his teaching appointment. They kept a manly distance apart, and even when they spoke they never looked at each other. They shuffled from foot to foot, hands jammed in their pockets, and squinted up at the night sky over the roof as if they were watching a movie. Just in that moment, as different as they were, they looked the same to me. Identical. I had my hands in hot water, but I remember the coldness that came into me, like the flat of a blade on bare skin. The chill thought crept in that they were the same. Impossible - Stephen had stubbornness in him, a temper, a mean streak, Stephen was alive. I thought of my mother's discontent and disappointment, what they've turned her into and who she blames them on, and I thought, What if, by marrying a man as absent and unreachable as Pop, I've made the same mistake she made? Not a similar mistake, the exact same mistake. So I started a fight. Unlike my father, Stephen could give as good as he got - better. His trusty weapon, cold, withering logic, always trounced my teary, incoherent furies, no contest, a sword fight with a balloon. But that night I didn't care, I wanted noise, racket, action. I waited until we were driving home on Clay Boulevard, a straight, well-lit stretch of four-lane highway, no distractions... (Continues...) Excerpted from Circle of Three by Patricia Gaffney Copyright © 2003 by Patricia Gaffney Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.