Each year, the Winderman family gathers during the last month of August, on an island off the East Coast. There, in the family compound, they perform the rituals of their family. Tennis matches, painting the decks of the house, clearing underbrush from paths--no activity seems too trivial to be done in a time-honored way.
The man behind these traditions and rituals is Charles Winderman, the autocratic patriarch of the family, who is to celebrate his seventieth birthday this August. Although some of the Windermans have questioned Charles’ rules, none has really challenged his total control until the arrival of the newest Winderman. Ellen is married to the eldest Winderman son, Lawrence, and is pregnant when she spends her first summer on the island. Although she recognizes the affection and family feeling behind the ritual, she also comes to recognize the blindness and cruelty of Charles’ unbending devotion to the traditions he has developed. Ellen challenges his absolute authority and in doing so earns a place of leadership in the family.
Rich characterization and descriptions enhance this novel. The Windermans are believable, each having good and bad points. Not even Charles comes across as a villain. He is simply a rather arrogant old man to whom his family defers. Many readers may catch glimpses of their own family members in this loving family portrait.