Have you wanted to love a book simply because? Because you should, or because you wanted to, or because you've enjoyed other offerings from the noveliHave you wanted to love a book simply because? Because you should, or because you wanted to, or because you've enjoyed other offerings from the novelist? That's how I felt upon beginning my time with The Things We Set on Fire by Deborah Reed. I wanted to love this book is my kind of novel -- deep with a richly woven narrative, complex and--okay, at times--maddening characters. It's a story with soul. I should have loved this book, and I did love it, but then...
Things We Set on Fire begins with a brazen act of violence so unexpected that it is bound to give the reader pause. That's the way it's designed, for shock and awe. It really is, all things considered, a brilliant way to begin a novel. It leaves one breathless with confusion and worry and does not allow them to set the novel aside, doesn't allow for one to think 'maybe this book isn't for me...' ... it leaps, and you leap with it.
Vivvie was widowed too soon. Left to raise her daughters without the man she had loved since she, herself, was little more than a girl. The death of Vivvie's husband has a 'butterfly effect' on her daughters, Elin--the oldest--and Kate--one year Elin's junior--in many ways.
Maybe the girls were born destine to bicker and pick at each other mercilessly. Maybe it was the Florida heat that made them ornery. Or maybe it was stress of living in a home where their mother kept an ugly secret that turned her inside out and made her withhold her love that turned them into angry children. Whatever it was in Elin and Kate's childhood that proved to be a catalyst the anger they felt defined them. And then it happened, something that could have bonded them together. But no, it became a secret they were forced to share. It drove the wedge deeper and the guilt they both felt for having it only stood to break them further apart...leading to a betrayal that would come later in their lives.
The book opens to find the family grown and spread far and wide. From the Pacific Northwest Portland area to the sunny orange groves of Orlando, Florida. The distance between the girls and their mother isn't accidental, it's purposeful and deliberate, proving some families simply cannot stay close.
Vivvie is used to living alone now. Her children are grown and gone and are, for all intents and purposes, estranged from her. She works, she tends to her home, she smokes her cigarettes, she flirts with her neighbor, Wink, she keeps her pile of regrets close. Her life now is as peaceable as it is predictable as it is lonely, and considering what it once was when she had her husband and little girls under foot, it's really only a shadow of what could have been.
Kate is dying by fate and she wants to die by choice. Something is ravaging her body, something in her genetics that is bound and determined to take her away from her daughters slowly, methodically, cruelly. She makes the (selfish?) choice to beat it to the end--why fight the inevitable? A bottle of pills, a quiet night, two little girls sleeping in their beds. She'll make the 'leaving' as simple as she can and spares them the horror of watching their mother--the only real and present parent they have--fade slowly away. But something in her plan went wrong and now she still very much alive, still very much dying and forced to face her mother and sister.
Elin is at a crossroads. Her life, from the outside, is a slice of perfect. A beautiful home, a handsome and worldly husband, a job, her dog. But what looks perfect from the exterior isn't always so pretty inside: Her husband isn't the man she believed him to be, and she could use some time away from him to collect her thoughts, or punish him, whichever comes first. So when Vivvie calls to tell her about Kate's failed suicide attempt, she has no reason not to go home, expect the singular reason that kept away for a very long time.
The Things We Set on Fire is a character book. There is little suspense, little danger, the book focuses most on telling you the story of three generations of women thrown back together and how their interconnected lives unfold when they are forced to not only face each other, but all the things they ran away from. To that end, the characters Reed created are both vibrant and authentic. There is an unmistakable truth to them. They aren't written for you to like or love or even relate to...they are written merely in the vein of feeling real. They are flawed and erratically, helplessly human which only adds to the charm of this book. And as the novel picks up speed, you will find yourself drawn to them because Reed goes to great lengths to explain them to you, to tell you precisely what it is that makes them so broken so you can understand and care.
Things We Set on Fire is a beautiful book, but the things that make this novel beautiful--the intense use of flowery language, descriptors for even the most minute details--also prove to be the novel's primary hurdle. The language is thick, verbose, at time staggering and causes the book, for me at least, to sag a little. I found myself getting lost in it, almost losing track of the story because I was so immersed in the way --for example--the fireflies looked. It's not bad, and Reeds precise details of ordinary moments are lovely in moderation, but it came to be distracting page after page, sentence after sentence.
I liked this book very much...but I wanted to love it. Isn't that always so disappointing? Regardless, The Things We Set on Fire is well worth the read and I have a feeling few will regret giving the novel time and I have a suspicion that fans of Deborah Reed will cheer. ...more
STARDUST SUMMER begins at the end of one love story and at the start of another.
Grace Mason adores her son, Evan. She's built her life around him, eveSTARDUST SUMMER begins at the end of one love story and at the start of another.
Grace Mason adores her son, Evan. She's built her life around him, even her career as a teacher has been carefully selected to ensure she can spend as much time with him as possible in their small hometown of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. She's happy, content even, but a tragic twist in her otherwise simple life will send Grace (with Evan in tow) to the Finger Lakes region of New York state to face old resentments and maybe find a way to put the past behind her.
Ryan Gordon knows something about loss. His marriage has failed and it's the sort of devastation he hasn't come to terms with yet. His position as a small town doctor has left him overworked and now, to share the burden of the tragedy that draws Grace to his town. He never imagined that in the middle of those two blows he'd find a new start...but life is sometimes surprising.
As Grace and Ryan meet, there is something undeniable happening between them, even if Grace is standoffish at first. But once she steps out of her own way in this charming, albeit at times dark, deep, novel...something magical happens, like the `stardust over the water in summer.'
Beautifully written, STARDUST SUMMER is a journey of love and loss, redemption and second chances. Clark has created a cast of likable, relatable characters which unfold themselves throughout the pages and ultimately leaves the reader wanting, heck, rooting for them to end up happy. Easily digestible chapters allow the reader to become quickly and fully engrossed in the story and Clark's prose is, in a word, lovely. Written in the vein of startling romances with simple beginning and epic ends, a la Nicholas Sparks, this book is a must read for Women's Fiction fans....more
Wally Lamb is an incubator. Every five years, or every ten years, and only occasionally at other points in time, does this talented author bless our bWally Lamb is an incubator. Every five years, or every ten years, and only occasionally at other points in time, does this talented author bless our bookshelves with a new novel. When they arrive, they are gifts. His books, as they always are, are journeys into the human soul and not simply novels. They follow the arc of lives, allow the characters to seep in secrets, touch upon sensitive topics, unfold slowly over the course of hundreds of pages and leave the reader not only drawn into world which he so beautifully writes, but aching because they know they will have to sit and wait while he produces another -- a wait that will feel unforgivably long.
In his latest offering WE ARE WATER, as he has in the past novels This Much I Know Is True and The Hour I First Believed, Lamb returns us to quiet town of Three Rivers, Connecticut to bare witness to legacy of the Oh's.
Annie Oh is a `angry' artist. Her medium is other peoples trash. Street-found trinkets that -- with nothing more than the creative veins that roils inside her and a loud voice she likens to a cyclone -- she curates into treasures. Treasures that sell for thousands upon thousands of dollars to a fictional client list of not-so-fictional characters. Her life in New York City looks strikingly different from her once humble, erratic beginnings in America's foster care system. She is also a newly minted lesbian and as WE ARE WATER opens, we find Annie stumbling ever closer to her wedding to the woman cultured her vibrant career, Viveca.
Orion Oh is trying to hold it together while simultaneously trying to reinvent himself in the third act of his life. His children have grown, his wife-whom he tried to love and understand for the duration of their 27 years together- is no longer his wife but a New York lesbian with a wealthy fiancee he blames for his marriage failing, and his job as a college psychologist has imploded around him after a two-part cataclysm: Lust and distraction. Orion is not trapped solely in the present, his past, too, proves be a divide he cannot overcome as it left him riddled with the shrapnel of estrangement and the hole that always existed in his personal history is one that never quite filled itself up.
Annie and Orion's three shared children -- Ariane, Andrew and Marissa -- are as different as they are similar. Each struggles in their own way with change in their personal life -- a wedding, a baby, a fledgling career that requires certain, yet questionable, moral compromises -- as well the change of their parents. One could liken their mid-twenties struggles to the struggles that mid-fifties parents are in the throes of, drawing the conclusion that life, no matter one's age, is little more than a endless loop of choices, chances and possible regrets. Ah, the brilliance of Lamb reveals itself yet again.
As the wedding of Annie (or Anna, the name given to her by the highfalutin society of art and prestige she now travels with) and Viveca draws near, so do the individual secrets that members of the Oh tribe have struggled to push away. Secrets and truths, the family must fully acknowledge both to move on...but the secrets they've kept will, in one single moment, lead to new secrets they'll be forced to keep as they try to move forward.
WE ARE WATER is an astute, and at times harrowing, novel which begs to be read. Weaving chaotic pasts together with the present, the books delves heavily into many of the social issues we face today - race, class, marriage, parenting, forgiveness, mental illness and homosexuality. The book is not a light read by any means, but an amazing one that asks a reader to set aside all of her preconceived notions and look deeper into the core of where those notions stem from. Very possibly the best book of 2013, add this to you TBR list and move it right to the top.
P.S: Lovers of Lamb's first best selling novel She's Come Undone should by close attention as a familiar face appears in this novel (as is almost the status quo for Lamb)....more