There is a passage in Ann Packer’s THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE when Rebecca Blair recalls her therapist saying we never get over having started out as children.
That observation lies at the heart of the novel’s exploration of the experience of four siblings, Robert, Rebecca, Ryan and James, growing up with their doctor father and absentee mother, an aspiring artist.
The story begins with Bill Blair, a Korean War veteran, finding a parcel of land and dreaming of the home and family he will build there. As each of his children (now grown) tells their story in turn the reader gets a multi-dimensional view of how things turned out. As readers, we are privy to jealousy, competition, and great tenderness among the siblings.
Packer’s portraits of the children through their father’s eyes are small gems:
Ryan was obvious about his inner life; his eyes mapped his
emotions perfectly. He was a dreamy boy given to long periods
of contentment, disturbed every now and then by a very adult
And later about Rebecca:
He could think of nothing her point of view wouldn’t likely
illuminate, and her competence in virtually everything she
undertook meant her help was always helpful.
The reader sees Robert’s attempts to live up to his father’s example, Rebecca’s efforts to mediate family disputes, Ryan’s tenderness and James’s impulsive, and ultimately destructive, energy.
One of the story’s great triumphs is how deeply it takes us into the minds of the characters and reveals the psychological reverberations of family life. In this passage, Robert reflects on whether or not he took his father’s advice to enjoy his children:
Had I? Had I enjoyed my children?
If I hadn’t, then the question of which of my parents I more
Resembled—settled and obvious for my entire life—was all
at once open and terrifying.
The last section of the book centers on the dilemma of whether or not to sell the family home. As the grown children are brought together, they play out old roles and rivalries, and relive old regrets. They embody the messy, often unsatisfying, but inescapable bonds of family.