Dougie Curtis did not want to sell Plum Point. The property on the Rhode Island coast—two acres on a promontory, a rickety yellow house with black shutters, ghostly pilings that showed where a dock had once reached out into the sound—had been in the family for decades. He hadn’t been aware it was for sale until his oldest brother, George, called him to say that he’d received an offer of $2.8 million. A particular kind of solemnity entered his deep voice whenever he spoke about money, as if others could not be trusted to grasp its significance. The yellow house had been built during the Great Depression by their grandfather and left to his two daughters, and as the family scattered and branched out, the ownership had been divided and subdivided into ever-thinner slices. Despite his many fuckups, Dougie still owned a piece of it, two and a half percent. Dougie’s share would amount to $70,000. A very tidy little windfall, George said. The forced laugh sounded like it had issued from a dungeon: heh heh heh. “You could get yourself a spiffy new van,” George said, and chortled again. The man was 70-plus years old and still failed to grasp the difference between teasing and insult.
Dougie said he’d sleep on it. To sell Plum Point was inconceivable, though he could certainly use the money. He was the baby of the family, the darling, the one with the golden voice and quick wit, and he’d turned out to be the failure—he was a painter. Not an artist, a painting contractor. He wore white bib overalls as a sort of hair shirt, or a badge of reverse snobbery, or both. He drove a white, unwashed Econoline van with ladders racked on the roof and duct tape holding the vinyl seats together. On his rare social visits to his brother’s house—they’d grown up in Washington and still lived there—George had asked him to park in the driveway behind the house, not on the street in his posh neighborhood.
George, the family plodder, had prospered as a lawyer. For many years he’d been the head of the family association that managed Plum Point, handling the financial and legal matters, the repairs, the maintenance, the annual assessments, the vacation assignments. When his children were growing up, he made sure that they had the place during the prime of the summer season. Now that he was semi-retired, George and his wife had become world travelers, and they’d bought a place in South Carolina on a golf course that, he couldn’t help reminding you, was ranked No. 17 in the world. The other two siblings—a brother in California, a sister in Chicago—no longer had much attachment to Plum Point. Both of them, and George, too, had cast their lot with the families of their spouses.