Gene Lyons
June 07, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Christopher Tilghman’s beautifully written, fully imagined first novel captures the eastern shore of Maryland during those fateful twilit years immediately before the outbreak of World War II. His business interests in England having failed during the depression, expatriate aristocrat Edward Mason returns with his wife and two young sons to a ramshackle, inherited estate on a tidal estuary across the Chesapeake from Baltimore — during a time when a short ferry ride across the bay transported one into an entirely different historical era. Rustic surroundings and enforced isolation have a profoundly different impact on each member of the family, setting in motion a series of tragic events at once inevitable and surprising. Few first novels are narrated with the clarity, economy, and masterful assurance Tilghman brings to Mason’s Retreat, the remarkably moving and persuasive tale of one family’s emotional dissolution. A

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