Plum & Jaggers


Haunted by the terrorist explosion that killed his parents and obsessively driven to protect his orphaned younger siblings—even if it means breaking the law—precocious, fiercely independent Sam discovers during a stint in a Washington, D.C. juvenile detention home that he has a gift as a writer of family comedy. So begins the dark, quirky Plum & Jaggers series of sketches about a family of children whose parents are never at home. The McWilliams family troupes rises from open-mike venues to small comedy clubs to a late night television slot, creating a stir—and unwittingly exposing the family to new dangers that cost Sam his resilient wit and threaten his sanity.


"Plum & Jaggers is one of the more risky books I've read in a long time and certainly one of the best. What an amazing way to portray how arrested dreams of one generation play out in another, and the protean shapes of love. It's a beautiful story, beautifully told." —Stuart Dybek

"Poignant and delicate, gracefully told, here is a love story of a different kind; an unusual tale of brothers and sisters who must learn to withstand, and accept, the bonds of the past that belong to the present." —Elizabeth Strout

"Plum & Jaggers is a close family drama. This sparse and disciplined novel brings the world, totally undidactically, literally explosively, to the family dining table." —Nadine Gordimer

"Beautifully quirky, eloquently disturbing, blessed with humor -- and a terrific story -- Plum & Jaggers takes risks and turns into deeper emotions that few contemporary novels dare to take." —Howard Norman


Sam McWilliams was the only member of Plum & Jaggers who remembered the afternoon of June 11, when the first of two cars of the Espresso from Milan to Rome exploded, killing everyone on board except a four-year-old French boy and a conductor. Sam remembered exactly. He was seven years old, eight in November. Julia was too young for memory, sleeping in Sam’s arms, where their mother had put her when she left. 

 “You take Julia, shoofly, and I’ll go help your father get lunch.”

 “I would like tea,” Charlotte said, looking up from her book. “And four cookies.”

“I’d like a chocolate milk shake,” Oliver had said.

“There are no chocolate milk shakes in Italy,” their father said.

 “I want one anyway,” said Oliver pleasantly.

“Then I’ll bring one,” their father said.

Had he returned with a late lunch, he might have brought tea instead, or milk, or mineral water. 

“Here’s your chocolate milk shake, Oliver,” he would have said.