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The Roots of the Olive Tree    by Courtney Miller Santo order for
Roots of the Olive Tree
by Courtney Miller Santo
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Courtney Miller Santo's The Roots of the Olive Tree tells the stories of five generations of firstborn Keller women, from alternating points of view. They have all lived in the family home on a Sacramento Valley olive grove in Northern California, and all of them are still living.

At 112 and still fit and healthy, Anna is waiting to become the oldest living person in the world. She lives at Hill House with her daughter Bets, and her granddaughter Callie (in her midsixties). Callie's daughter Deb is serving a long jail sentence for the murder of her husband. As the novel opens, Deb's opera singer daughter Erin (raised by Callie, Bets and Anna) shows up, pregnant.

Next, geneticist Dr. Amrit Hashmi (contacted by Callie, who is also attracted to him) shows up to study the Keller superagers and this theme of longevity research flavors the novel as much as its olives do. And the women (aside from Callie who hasn't visited Deb once during her twenty years of imprisonment) attend Deb's parole hearing. There, Erin's plea for her mother's release succeeds.

Back at Hill House, the women wait for Erin's baby to arrive, while old conflicts simmer across the generations, particularly between Callie and Deb, who 'consistently bring out the worst in each other.' Their feelings erupt to cause a commotion at the hospital when the baby is born. Fortunately, when a mother's love is lacking, a grandmother's is not.

All these women keep secrets from themselves and each other - Anna's true parentage; Bets' children's different fathers; Callie's need to escape the family home; Debs' motive for murder; and the identity of the father of Erin's child. The Roots of the Olive Tree is an engaging read, very well worth your time.

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