STARRED REVIEW
July 03, 2017

Rituals of the rich

By Estep Nagy
Review by

Two wealthy families, the Hillsingers and the Quicks, have shared the remote Maine island of Seven for generations. Though Jim Hillsinger and Billy Quick are married to sisters, the families aren’t close; in fact, each family views the other as an interloper. But events conspire to draw the families together over the course of three summer days in We Shall Not All Sleep, an unusual and ambitious debut by playwright Estep Nagy.

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Two wealthy families, the Hillsingers and the Quicks, have shared the remote Maine island of Seven for generations. Though Jim Hillsinger and Billy Quick are married to sisters, the families aren’t close; in fact, each family views the other as an interloper. But events conspire to draw the families together over the course of three summer days in We Shall Not All Sleep, an unusual and ambitious debut by playwright Estep Nagy.

The date is 1964, and the occasion is “the Migration,” a celebration of the annual departure of the sheep of Seven to a neighboring island. The Hillsingers and the Quicks are there for the summer with their extended families and friends; the young cousins are running wild and the servants are busy preparing for the festivities. Jim has just been ousted by the CIA for reasons that have something to do with the untimely death of Billy’s wife, Hannah, and a financial connection both families had with a mysterious Soviet agent. Grieving her sister’s death, Jim’s wife, Lila, has been spending more time with the Quicks, leading to an intimacy with Billy and a newfound closeness with her nieces. With the adults thus occupied, the Hillsinger’s older son, James, is free to lead his cousins in a series of grotesquely violent games. Most disturbingly, the youngest Hillsinger son, 12-year-old Catta, is banished overnight to the wild, uninhabited island of Baffin in Grandfather Hillsinger’s attempt to, in his words, make a man of him.

It is Catta’s story that makes this difficult novel—with its echoes of Graham Greene and Lord of the Flies—worth reading. The brutal rite of passage undertaken by the young boy is powerfully written; the clarity of his fight against the elements at odds with the complex and often puzzling Cold War politics and the unsavory exploits of the adults. It is Catta’s bravery, resourcefulness and sense of betrayal that the reader will recall long after this portrait of a dissolving privileged class has faded.

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We Shall Not All Sleep

We Shall Not All Sleep

By Estep Nagy
Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781632868411

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