Sara's Reviews > Safe Within: A Novel

Safe Within by Jean Reynolds Page
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Jun 09, 12

bookshelves: first-reads, 2012, adult-fiction
Read from June 08 to 09, 2012

Elaine and her dying husband move back to their childhood home of North Carolina, to spend his final days. After he dies, Elaine and their son, Mick, aren't quite sure what to do, but it feels like they should stay in town for a while longer, so they do. Their only relative in town in Elaine's mother-in-law, Greta, who's never liked or approved of Elaine and has spent her entire life believing that Mick was not her husband's son - that he's the product of Elaine having an affair. Greta has refused to talk to or even be civil to Elaine or Mick for her entire marriage, but Elaine's husband had wanted to keep a relationship with his mom, so they'd meet up every so often on their own, never once talking about the other family members. Now that he's gone, Elaine feels like she should be able to just let go of that tie holding her in this city, but she also feels like she has some sort of responsibility to take care of her husband's mom. Complicating matters, Mick has now heard Greta's claims that he's not Elaine's son, so he's decided to investigate these rumors on his own.

The author did a good job showing the complicated relationships in the town. Particularly well done was Mick's former relationship with a local girl; things hadn't ended well between them, and he still feels weighed down with guilt about the way he'd treated her. Some of the strongest parts in the book were when Mick was trying to move on in his life by spending time with another girl and make up for his past by helping his ex-girlfriend's family. I loved the interactions between Mick and his ex-girlfriend's little brother; although they didn't have a ton of interactions, they did have good chemistry together and it felt very genuine.

The writing in this book was very smooth and polished throughout. My favorite came when Mick is thinking about the past: Was anything ever as intense as it seemed at seventeen? What a beautiful sentiment! The narration bounced around between characters, giving you a very rounded idea of all the action; however, although Greta does have a sweet side to her (when she's not interacting with or thinking about Elaine or Mick!), she never seems to fully redeem the judgmental, awful side of her personality. It was hard to see her as a sympathetic character or understand why anyone (either Elaine or her husband) would want to make things right with her.

Everything seemed to all fall into place - or fall out of place, depending on your perspective - as the book went on, but there didn't seem to be a real reason why all the plot twists were suddenly happening. I felt like there was no genuine momentum pushing the plot forward. For example, the biggest part of the plot dealt with Greta's accusations of Mick not being her grandson and being terrible to everyone because of it, yet Elaine was willing to look past this (after 25 years of this!) and Mick was suddenly curious about why Greta has hated them, deciding he should investigate on his own. It never seemed truly genuine or believable; it all just happened because the story required it. I also didn't find it believable that Elaine and her husband had such a "perfect" marriage, yet he'd continued to keep a close relationship with his mother that never really affected their marriage. I guess, for me, too much time had elapsed since the problems had begun to understand why they were now being addressed in a somewhat productive manner.

I would have enjoyed a little more depth to the story or a little more realistic portrayal of family problems, but the book was still decent overall. This is a quick read that definitely invokes a very beautiful setting in North Carolina but has a slightly lacking plot. Though I enjoyed parts of the book, it's not one that left a lasting impression.

I received a free copy of this book through the First Reads program.
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