Second Sight

Everyone is connected in the depressed industrial town of Wallingford, New Jersey. Delia Bird, known professionally as Destiny Ortega, supports herself and her twelve-year-old son, Lazaro, by giving tarot readings over the telephone. Delia’s father is Nestor Bird, a Wallingford industrialist who left Delia’s mother, Lavinia, fifteen years ago to marry a younger woman. Delia’s sister, Cass, is a liberated professional woman who has difficulty finding love. William Appleyard III is a historian who comes to Wallingford seeking information on his ancestors, who once owned the town silk mill. He discovers that his grandfather, the first Will Appleyard, married and then deserted Delia’s grandmother, Anna Bird. In revenge, Anna had a deadly curse put on him and all of his male descendants.

When Will rents a room from Lavinia, the fun begins. Nestor is in charge of a plan to renovate the old Appleyard mills, but his dishonest associate, Edgar Snow, hires Lazaro to torch the buildings in order to collect insurance money. Then Edgar disappears with Nestor’s young wife. Will realizes that he should marry a member of the Bird family in order to defuse Anna’s curse. He woos Delia, but she is drawn to the former lover of one of her tarot clients from New York. Will finally realizes that his destiny lies with the sensible Bird sister, Cass. Nestor returns to Lavinia, Delia gets her New York lover, and everything is settled at last, thanks to the intervention of the Fates.

If Tannen’s mystical tale sounds confusing and unconvincing, it is. She comments ironically on her characters and arbitrarily assigns them actions and attributes. Consequently, her story often seems flat, contrived, and unbelievable. Nevertheless, toward the latter part of the novel, the tale finally builds up enough steam to sing for itself, and then the effect is truly magical.