Love and loss at the heart of ‘Family Tree’

Family Tree by Susan Wiggs

Bainbridge Island has its share of No. 1 New York Times best-selling authors, but can anyone top Susan Wiggs, who has written more than 50 books and sold millions upon millions of copies in the process? She’s back at it with “Family Tree,” the first book to come out of her new association with publisher William Morrow.

This tale focuses on the producer of “The Key Ingredient,” a popular California-based cooking show on TV. Vermont-born Annie Rush is the brains behind the camera – it was her concept to begin with. Her husband, Martin Harlow, is the charismatic onscreen chef and co-host.

Regular spats are inevitable when spouses work so close together, but when Annie discovers she is pregnant, she is overjoyed. She rushes to her husband’s trailer on set to tell him the good news – and discovers Martin in flagrante delicto with his onscreen sidekick.

Blindsided, she careens away from the vivid scene, only to be caught in an accident just moments later. A scissors-lift on the set fails and a scaffold collapses on top of her.

When she comes to, it is in a rehab facility one year later, and she is back in Vermont. The medical team overseeing her recovery counsels her family not to overwhelm Annie with all that has happened since she went into a coma, but to let her recuperate at her own pace.

Annie’s mother is there to help, and so is Annie’s brother and his wife. Annie’s dad is there, too, which seems strange, because he had deserted the family several years ago.

And a few friends from high school drop by, including handsome Fletcher Wyndham. Annie remembers that he had been her high school sweetheart – he still sparks an uncanny effect on her – but she can’t remember what had caused them to break up.

Annie undergoes grueling physical therapy and continues to recover her memories. She learns that after the accident, as soon as it became clear that her recovery was in doubt, Martin divorced her, shipped her back to her family in Vermont, and carried on with both the show and his co-star.

Eventually, Annie also remembers that she had been pregnant, and she succumbs to fresh grief when she realizes that the accident that befell her also ended her pregnancy.

Wiggs tells the story of “Family Tree” in Now and Then chapters, as well as from the points of view not only of Annie, but also of Fletcher and occasionally of Annie’s mom. This is an effective way of sharing the characters’ unvoiced fears and motivations with the readers, but the whipsawing plot line does become wearisome.

As the lead character, Annie is a strong-willed, hard-working dreamer – complicated but likable. Her male counterparts are less well-drawn: Fletcher is one of those too-good-to-be-true packages, and Martin is a charming snake.

Nonetheless, Wiggs knows how to create a story that has dimension. Annie has to grapple with issues of identity, ambition, family ties and romance. “Family Tree” has good rosots.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her atbkmonger@nwlink.com