The set-up for Under One Roof -- a large, unempathetic family gathers in suburban Los Angeles for a holiday -- is remarkably similar to the one for Pity of God, written four years before. Even the use of multiple viewpoints is the same. It's almost as if Ruth McKee liked the basic story but wanted to give it a realistic (as opposed to naturalistic and much less angry) spin. Her characters are much more sympathetic and much less committed to their own agendas. Even so, the query atop the back of the earlier novel's jacket is just as applicable: What are your neighbors really like?
Under One Roof by Ruth Eleanor McKee. Doubleday, Doran and Co. (1936), 276 pp.
It's Thanksgiving in Los Angeles, and Mrs. McKelvey is glad to have her family back together for the holiday. She is, however, unaware of the various problems that family members are facing. Her elderly husband, John, fears his strict Calvinism is losing its effect on their children. Their oldest daughter, Mildred, a librarian, laments a bleak future taking care of her parents. Garfield, a married businessman with a family in San Francisco, is worried that his girlfriend is pregnant. Henrietta, a teacher, is suffering from what may be a fatal disease. Sarah, a divorced journalist, has lingering doubts about her affair with a married man. And Jack, still in high school, isn't coping well with his newly aroused sexual desires. Only Narcissa, a beautiful but manipulative grad student, sees no stumbling blocks to a career in academe. One day is enough to bring important changes to their lives.
From the outside the McKelvey family appears to be an unqualified success. The parents own a large suburban house; the children have worthwhile jobs. Even on the inside all seems to going well as family members discount annoyances and suppress conflict. The author is not satisfied with such superficialities. She digs deeper into her characters' thoughts and feelings to show how little intimacy the family shares. As McKee shifts viewpoints between (and sometimes within) chapters, the lack of communication becomes increasingly evident. All in all, the book paints a pretty bleak picture of family life. Modern readers, once they differentiate the various characters, are likely to appreciate McKee's storytelling skills. The novel would make perfect fodder for book group discussions -- if, of course, copies were available.