Synopsis: The Spring House by Mary Ann Henry
At the tender age of twenty-two, LORELIE is running out of ways to reinvent herself. After catapulting from an impoverished background into the Ivy League, she throws away her super-star academic status to marry a blueblood athlete from a prominent New York family, thinking she’s found true love and a normal family. But her husband and his family go off the rails when their patriarch dies, leaving them in debt and chaos.
One year later, with her marriage in shambles and her brilliant career cut short, Lorelie receives a mysterious phone call from her younger, dropout brother, ROWAN. Thereafter he disappears, forcing her to return to her strange and estranged family in Clarkston, West Virginia, where she grapples with an emotionally distant (and now, dying) mother who wears underwear on her head while obsessively reading paperback mysteries; a kindly father who slugs down Old Milwaukee and tap dances to reruns of Lawrence Welk; and an angry older sister, CLARE. Given the reality of her family, Lorelie camps out on the porch.
Unaware that Rowan has begun his own oddball odyssey—a suicide mission to the Grand Canyon—Lorelie searches for him with the help of a local police detective. When she runs into JACK, a former classmate-turned lawyer/environmental activist fighting the big coal companies, he’s interested, she’s not. Lorelie’s marriage continues to disintegrate via texts and phone calls.
One night, her sister Clare casually mentions a memory which Lorelie hid from her own psyche: their mother tried to kill herself and take 8-year-old Lorelie with her. Overwhelmed by the revelation, Lorelie checks in with the detective, then heads to her aunt’s farm in the mountains where she spent her girlhood summers.
Sitting by the spring house listening to her aunt’s stories, the soothing domesticity of farm life has a healing effect on Lorelie, who settles into the small, rural community. She finds a trove of journals and learns her family history with its two hundred years of women running the farm, as well as vintage clothes and photos revealing Lorelie’s remarkable resemblance to a famously eccentric ancestor, her three-times great grandmother. Meanwhile, communications with her husband have come to a halt. Jack visits Lorelie and accepts friendship even though Lorelie suspects she may already be pregnant.
One evening, a lightning strike sends her beloved aunt into a coma and shatters the spring house in the process. Her aunt is taken to the hospital where she remains in a coma. Lorelie takes over the responsibilities of the farm while staying in contact with the detective. But Rowan is elusive, traveling under-the-radar while he fights his own demons, unknowingly recreating the journey of a long ago ancestor who disappeared out West.
On the same day her aunt dies, Lorelie learns via national headlines that Rowan’s suicidal quest has ended in tragic-comic results (“West Virginia Man Aims for Grand Canyon and Misses”). Rowan is airlifted to a psych ward and Jack flies out to help him, leaving Lorelie to handle funeral arrangements and her family’s dysfunctional behavior—including a trip to the ER after her drunken sister, Clare, drives off a mountain. Lorelie is too numb to be more than mildly surprised when her husband shows up at the farm to drop off their cat and divorce papers, which she signs. Lorelie’s family, in a rare moment of solidarity, sends the husband packing.
In a heart-wrenching conversation the morning of the funeral, Lorelie gains insight into what drove her mother to lead the life she led. Lorelie pulls herself together to deliver the eulogy in which she speaks to the true meaning of family, of honoring the land, and the beauty and mystery of our ancestral ties. Lorelie is overjoyed when Jack shows up with Rowan, embarrassed and on crutches at the back of the church. Later, Lorelie learns her aunt willed the farm to her.
One year later, Lorelie’s mother has died but they found a peaceful enough balance. Her father lives in a nearby town where she can keep an eye on him, and her sister Clare has dried out. Lorelie is working on her graduate degree via long-distance classes, running the farm with help from Rowan and preparing for her wedding. Lorelie dresses her infant daughter in a gift from the groom, Jack: a tiny replica of the dress and hat worn by the ancestor Lorelie resembles. The wedding will take place in the newly rebuilt spring house.