Another strange book recommended by the New York Times book review, but interesting enough that I made my way through it.
The book begins in 1976 on Martha's Vineyard. Fern and Edgar are spending their summer at their vacation home with their three children, nine year old Cricket and six year old twins, James and Will when they are advised that all the family money they had been living off of was gone. Fern becomes very concerned and wants Edgar to take over the helm of his father's steel business in Chicago. But Edgar has never wanted that life - though he has happily lived off his family's money, he is embarrassed by it and is in the process of completing the publication of a book which delves into the horrors of making your money off the backs of poor miners and other workers. This leads him to find solace in the arms of another woman, Gloria.
When the family returns to Boston, Edgar tries to set up a bizarre dinner where he will again hook up with Gloria but will hand over his wife to her husband. Not surprisingly Fern is horrified and kicks Edgar out of their home.
Every second chapter the books goes back in time and we learn how the families made their money (Fern's is old plantation money earned off the backs of slaves; Edgar's parents are self made and very ostentatious in their lifestyle and spending habits). We also learn how Fern and Edgar met; about Fern's twin brother who was mentally unstable (and how she blames her parents for his fate); about Edgar's time in the army (coddled as a result of his father's connections) and about the birth of the children.
When we return to the present Edgar has decided to escape on a sailing adventure with Gloria while Fern embarks on a completely odd cross country drive with a giant of a man who she has just met. Neither knows the other is gone so the three children are left to fend for themselves. Cricket seems to be the most capable of anyone in the family and actually manages to not only keep her siblings alive but to get them to school looking normal so that no one suspects the children are on their own.
The remainder of the book fills in more about the past - and the love/hate relationship with money. And we follow the week long adventure of both parents and children as they all try to sort out how they should deal with their future now that they can no longer live off of Fern's family money. There is some sort of resolution in the end, but it is no more sensible than the lives of the family members ever were.