Edie Pritchard is the girl we remember from high school who had it all. Smart and beautiful, you would have picked her out of the class picture as the most mature, the girl who understood what it was all about. The photographer for her senior photo told her to look as if she knew a secret, and she did. But unlike so many novels these days, it’s not a family secret that Edie knows. “All of us are someone else in the eyes of others.” That’s what Edie Pritchard knows and that’s what shapes her life in small town eastern Montana.
The Lives of Edie Pritchard is a novel in three parts, catching up with Edie every twenty years. Her first husband, high school classmate Dean Linderman, is a brooding, bottled-up sort of guy, convinced that Edie really meant to marry his more volatile and ambitious twin brother, Roy. That sets the tone for the controlled menace that permeates the story. Grudges, jealousy, and settling scores haunt all these people and define their lives. Edie wants none of that, but she’s trapped, defined by her beauty queen high school history. “When I was young I wanted love but sex is what I got.”
Twenty years later, Edie is in a different town with a different husband and a sullen teenage daughter. Her circumstances may have changed but her life is not much different; she’s still defined by her looks and the memories of others. Twenty years after that, well, I’ll let you read the book.
Watson is terrific at creating these characters, delineating them quickly and keeping their relationships tense. We worry about them all, especially the ones who lack self-reflection. Roy, the twin, is an especially heartbreaking and frustrating character. A charismatic flirt and bad boy, Roy can’t get out of his own way. But it’s Edie who captures our hearts in her attempt to live on her own terms even though she understands why it will always be difficult to do that. “What makes me think we have the right to control the memories of others?” she wonders. Atmospheric, even poetic at times, The Lives of Edie Pritchard is an absorbing, character-driven novel; a good read for a winter’s day. For those who enjoyed Olive Kitteridge, this would be a good choice.