Aaron and Madeline Maciver began their married life, just as many other couples from their time, believing they had many years ahead of them.

But one day Madeline was tragically injured in a bicycling accident that left her brain damaged, reduced to a childlike state.

After a period of rehabilitation, Aaron developed a relationship with Julia, the nurse who helped care for Madeline; their relationship morphed into a marriage—after Aaron terminated the marriage to Madeline.

What was most unexpected was Aaron and Julia’s decision to take Madeline into their home with them, where they cared for her as if she were their child.

Mac Maciver is the narrator of this family saga, moving back and forth in time to chronicle the stories that spotlight family moments, the connections that bind people together, and the flaws that often tear them apart. Set against the backdrop of the times, from the Viet Nam war to the Iraq conflict, Mac introduces a series of family members, from Cousin Buddy to his own wife and daughters many years later.

Through the years, Madeline is a constant presence, even though friends and neighbors find the family dynamics strange at best and bizarre at worst.

How does Julia cope with the “extra” wife in her home? Is her tendency to control things a way of coping, or is it something more? What will a romance for Madeline do to alter the dynamics of this unusual family?

Jane Hamilton’s prose is remarkable, revealing the emotions, the setting, and the characterizations with clarity. In this excerpt, Mac and his sister Louise are returning from a visit to their home, during which some events have forced them to see what they had not realized before:

“Below us as we lifted off lay the flat grid of the gray city, the desolation of the urban landscape. We were leaving it behind as we’d done before, but this time was different; this time the entire scrim had been pulled away from the home front, and we could see the outer world that all along had been part of us. I would have liked to return to our cozy, selfish ignorance, but that seemed no longer possible; from now on we’d walk hand in hand with our entitlements, nursing them along, feeding them up….”

As much as I enjoyed the characterizations, the prose, and the unusual plot of When Madeline Was Young, I found myself drifting off course, easily distracted, and losing my way as the narrator rambled and meandered in his effort to tell the stories of his family, some of which seemed irrelevant. Therefore, I’m awarding three stars.



  1. Family dysfunction is always in, and books about quiet, small, personal tragedies seem to be in vogue. Wondering whether you have read the critically acclaimed Year We Left Home, also a very meandering family saga (in terms of lack of plot momentum), it’s one that lurches in fits and starts over three decades.


    • I adore books about families, especially dysfunction! I did read The Year We Left Home…and enjoyed it a bit more than this one. I usually love Hamilton’s books, however…and I’m wondering if I just wasn’t in the mood for meandering.

      Thanks for visiting, Mari….


  2. Great, I was waiting for your review on this book! I think I felt the same. It’s been ages since I read it but I was disappointed with the book. Hamilton’s other books are so much better. Have you read any others? Please don’t be put off by this one.

    My favorite book by her is A Map of the World which will appeal to you as a social worker, I could imagine. It’s about a couple, not quite accepted in their small new town. When they look after the neightbor’s child, a tragedy happens that put family AND community relations at a strain. It’s really very sad and good.


    • Oh, I’m glad I didn’t read this one first! I’ve read and enjoyed several others: Disobedience, The Book of Ruth, and…my favorite, A Map of the World. I have the movie, too…and I have watched it several times, as if things might turn out more happily at the next viewing. Do you ever do that?

      Thanks for stopping by, Judith. I found it difficult to review this one…and, for me, the meandering aspects put me off and distracted me. Sometimes that style works for me, but in this case, not so much.


Please leave your thoughts. Comments, not awards, feed my soul. Thanks!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s