Wellfleet comes vividly to life in Christina Clancy’s The Second Home, a gripping novel about a family and second chances. The story centers on an inheritance dispute, which, for a pair of sisters and their estranged adopted brother, brings to the surface long-buried secrets. Ann Gordon, one of the sisters, now in her mid-30s, is dealing with selling the siblings’ summer house in Wellfleet, following the sudden death of their parents in a car accident.
Unable to find a will, she claims, untruthfully, that besides her and her younger sister, Poppy, there are no other heirs to the property. The book then jumps back 17 years to the arrival in Wellfleet of Ann, Poppy, and Michael, their adopted brother. Ann and Michael get jobs with a neighbor, babysitting and doing yard work. Over the summer, things begin to unravel. By summer’s end, a sexual assault and a miscarriage of justice have set in motion a chain of events that will irrevocably alter the family’s lives.
Clancy, who is from Wisconsin, knows Wellfleet because her maternal grandparents had a home here. “I spent two or three weeks every summer on the Cape when I was growing up,” she says. “One year, when my parents were divorcing, I spent the entire year there.”
Her mother inherited the house and, being a single parent and strapped for cash, she couldn’t afford to keep it, so Clancy’s aunt and uncle assumed ownership. “I was so afraid that someone else would get the house and we would never get to use it again, and that really stuck with me,” Clancy says. “And that’s really the genesis of this whole novel.”
Clancy always wanted to be a writer. “When I was in the fifth grade, I had a teacher who took me under her wing and told me how good I was at writing,” she says. “You know how some kids just need to be told that they’re good at some things? I took that to the bank. If she had said, ‘You’re good at math,’ I might have become an accountant.”
Clancy graduated from the University of Minnesota and then got her Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. For her thesis, Clancy wrote a novel written in first person and set in exurbia, beyond suburban sprawl, where newly minted wealth and prefab McMansions take root.
“Afterwards, I really didn’t like the plot or where it was set,” Clancy says of her thesis. “One of my friends said to me, ‘Why don’t you write about a place you really love?’ Well, I really loved Wellfleet, so I set the story [for The Second Home] there. It was written from three different perspectives instead of the first person, which was really liberating.”
A writing partner of Clancy’s who worked in television would send script chapters to her and ask her what she wanted to happen in the chapter. “Each chapter has to have a purpose and movement,” Clancy says. “I started thinking of things that would push the story along.” This helped her write the novel. “Each sentence has to serve the narrative,” she says. “It took me a really long time to learn that lesson. Once I got to know the characters better and their motivations, the book came together.”
Still, the storyline evolved organically. “I don’t plot ahead of time,” Clancy says. “The real revelation for me as a writer is what happens on the page as I write.”
Clancy’s editor, after a first read-though, told her that she really liked where the story was going but that the last third was a bit predictable. “So, I added some plot twists,” Clancy says, “which was easy, since by that time, I really understood my characters.”
Clancy lives in Madison, Wis., and has taught creative writing and literature for over a decade at Beloit College. She has just finished her next novel, set in 1981 in a small town in Wisconsin, about the defining experiences of a young woman, which lead to tragedy. Forty years later, Clancy is returning to her home town to reconcile events that happened there. It’s a novel about place, just like The Second Home.