Manipulative, callus, hedonistic patriarchs generally make for a good story, but throw in a conflicted Baptist minister, a dysfunctional Southern blueblood family, a West Coast academic and a South American drug lord – all in the middle of one of the South’s most sacred cities – and Miles DeMott’s debut novel, Family Meeting, will leave you with a new appreciation for heritage … and area book club members deliberating for weeks.
As the Camber family begins the convoluted process of disassociating from the bank that has made them a cornerstone of Charleston’s genteel society for more than four generations, they find themselves challenged with much more than dismantling their legacy – secrets are exposed, relationships are shattered and bonds are broken. While the sons and daughters work feverishly to maintain appearances and salvage their individual identities, the cumulative sins of the previous generations morph into a cataclysmic reality of family dysfunction so shockingly unexpected that redemption seems unlikely.
Told from multiple perspectives, DeMott cleverly weaves a briskly-paced storyline that introduces us to a series of characters and situations most will identify with on some level – be it through communication gaps between fathers and sons; the expectations mothers place on daughters; or the man “who seemed to be engaged in genuine discourse with a cheeseburger” in the book’s opening sentence. Tony Gordon, a Ph.D. from California has been tasked with overcoming the organizational and familial intricacies associated with the sale of Plantation Trust, a family-owned bank that had been run by iron-fisted Augustus Sterling Camber, IV for over sixty years until his sudden death landed the bank’s future in the hands of his daughter and sole heir, Margaret Camber Middleton, wife of respected Charleston Baptist minister, Walker Middleton. Their children, daughter Augusta and son Ben, as well as their hapless spouses, Ellis and Twinkle, are summoned for a family meeting that rapidly dissolves into a literal chess game of lies and malfeasance – where the pawns are people and the stakes destroy lives and upend the Camber family destiny. And that’s before an understated drug lord turns the tables, yet again, on one of Charleston’s most respected families and the shocking secrets they’ve kept from one another.
DeMott delivers all the critical elements of a satisfying read through his first novel – intrigue, suspense, drama, humor, tragedy, sarcasm – skillfully presented with a quintessential Southern slant as he challenges the reader’s concept of everything from religion and marriage to polite society, old money and intellectual pastimes. If you’re looking to spend a weekend with a good book, Family Meeting is holding a place for you at the table.
By Carrie Banks, freelance writer and avid reader
Carrie Banks is a freelance writer in Montgomery and the editor and writer for a state-wide association magazine.