After a four-month estrangement from her family, thirty-two-year-old Emma Michaels visits The Harbor View Assisted Living Home to tell her grandmother, Gussie, that she has made a decision: she’s going to sell the family property—her inheritance. Sitting on the dock of Poquatuck Village, Connecticut, looking across the harbor to their family’s longtime home, the two women debate over Emma’s choice—and their conversation lays the framework for the book, which flows over the decades, all the way back to Gussie's youth and marriage, then forward through the lives of her three children, Auggie, Livy, and Alyssa, whose hopes and talents are warped by their mother’s influence and disappointed expectations. Expectations passed down through the generations. Subtle. Unspoken. Implacable.
As Emma and Gussie remember the choices and dynamics that have produced the complicated tapestry that is their family’s history, Emma makes a number of surprising discoveries about her loved ones—and herself—and she prepares to do what no one else in her family has dared: let go of the past to make room for the future, though doing so will destroy the thing her grandmother holds most dear.