"Every household is haunted by times of discord which destroy the wished for calm. Every member of a feels that their own difficulties are unique.
"The grandmother, mother of three grown-up daughters, undrestands that it is the unseen, the unspoken and the unrevealed which either perplex or console people in their family dealings.
"When the middle sister returns home from England, without any explanations about her private life, peace in the grandmother's house is jeopardised. The grandmother with imagination, acceptance and the quality of her affection, attempts a form of rescue in the face of rising conflict and tension."
The aunt wanted to go out by herself. The aunt said she wanted quiet and fresh air. The aunt said she would walk alone. She said the nephews must walk with their grandmother. 'This once,' she said. 'Your grandmother would like a walk,' she told them. 'Go with your grandmother.' The aunt said the nephews could not go with her unless they first walked with their grandmother. The nephews could come with her later, the aunt said, she did not want the grandmother to explore with them along the cliff. The cliff path, the secret path on the rocky cliff, the aunt said, was uneven. The grandmother would not manage the path, she said. All those rocks.
The grandmother thought about the aunt wanting to walk alone. She thought it might be because the aunt wanted to meet someone. She would like, she told the grandsons, to have a walk with them. The grandmother turned the thoughts over in her mind. If the aunt wanted to meet someone all by herself, she, the grandmother, did not know who it could be. She hoped no harm would come to the aunt. She was afraid the aunt might be hurt in some way.
From the Viking hardback edition, 1995.
The title is taken from a quote from Melville which reads:
"The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us."
The first part of this novel, titled "Three Miles to One Inch", was originally published in the New Yorker in 1994.
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Last modified: March 25, 2001.