The Lost Mother
Mary McGarry Morris (Adult Fiction)
It’s the Great Depression, and everything that Henry Talcott owns or is most precious to him is contained in a single tent—his knives, saws, and cleavers as well as his two young children, Thomas (12) and Margaret (8). Henry slaughters animals for a living, but work is scarce and money is getting harder to come by. His wife, Irene, abandoned the family years earlier and now Henry finds himself having to leave his children alone more often as he travels to find work. When his wealthy neighbor, Phyllis Farley, begins to lure his children to her home as a means of providing companionship for her wheelchair-bound son, Henry’s firm hold on his family slowly begins to loosen.
The Lost Mother is an aching, somber, and dark novel about a father’s desperate attempt to keep his family together while two young siblings grapple with their own feelings of loyalty, love, and loathing toward one another. Morris’s book overflows with passion and her multi-dimensional characters evoke myriad emotions from her readers: pity for a single father doing his best under the most hopeless of circumstances; disdain for the crooked shopkeeper who swindles an honest boy; sympathy for a little sister enduring endless verbal and emotional assaults from her brother; contempt for a wealthy neighbor and her disingenuous benevolence; and disgust for a beautiful mother who callously abandons her children for a better life. Morris is able to successfully rein in all of our feelings while maintaining the story’s momentum by centering every action around a recurring theme of home, family, and togetherness.
In the song “You Always Hurt the One You Love”, there are lyrics that accurately describe several characters in this book: You always hurt the one you love/ The one you shouldn’t hurt at all/ You always take the sweetest rose/ And crush it till the petals fall. These characters love so deeply and wholly that they simply cannot recognize the negative impact that their behavior is having on those closest to them. But despite these flawed characters, Morris gives us a ray of hope through Henry and his children. Together, the three of them manage to rise above their circumstances and prove that they are much more than society has labeled them. Henry, Thomas, and Margaret Talcott remind us that worth and security are not something that you hold in a wallet. Instead, the greatest treasure is sometimes found in a pair of arms that are opened and are waiting for you…just for you.
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
The Inn at Lake Devine
Elinor Lipman (Adult Fiction)
“It was not complicated, and, as my mother pointed out, not even personal: They had a hotel; they didn’t want Jews; we were Jews.”
In the summer of 1962, Natalie Marx’s mother mailed about a dozen inquiries to various cottages and inns along Vermont’s Lake Devine. All came back with the standard rate card and cordial note. All, that is, but one. “Our guests who feel most comfortable here, and return year after year, are Gentiles” was neatly written on textured white stationery. This act of blatant and brutal honesty ignites young Natalie’s quest to seek justice and acquire vindication and understanding.
This book was an engaging read, but seems to fall victim to its own misleading marketing. On the cover, it’s touted as a “witty romantic comedy”. While there are spots of flirtatious frolicking, describing it as a Romcom might be a bit of a stretch. Also, in the synopsis, we’re led to believe that Natalie encounters “a small bastion of genteel anti-Semitism” at this particular lakeside inn. In reality, it is only one individual who openly exhibits this prejudice. Ironically, we find out that Natalie’s own family is not immune to their fair share of prejudice, which proves to be far more damaging to Natalie than what she experienced at Lake Devine.
Lipman gives us a charming book with enough plot twists and interesting characters to keep the reader’s interest. However, don’t expect “a tale of delicious revenge” as one reviewer stated on the back cover. Rather, The Inn at Lake Devine is a light read, which can be made even more enjoyable if sitting in an Adirondack chair overlooking a lake.
* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com
T. Greenwood (Adult Fiction)
“Do not ask me for haunted. Do not ever ask me for haunted, because I will give you haunted and you will never be the same.”
Effie Greer is living a fugitive life. When you are a fugitive, you don’t sign leases, you don’t bother unpacking, and you don’t make any friends. But after three years, she finally feels safe enough to return home to Lake Gormlaith, Vermont. There, she refurbishes her grandmother’s lake house, reconnects with an old school friend, and develops an interest in a mysterious and kind artist. Only time will tell if Effie can truly leave the past behind and begin anew.
Breathing Water jumps from the years 1991, 1994, and 1987 and deals with issues such as domestic violence and substance abuse. Despite its strong and promising beginning, the story just seems to aimlessly float along with no real purpose or direction. At times, the text seems overly flowery (“The rust-gold-orange-purple of the woods behind him blurred through the spray of the hose…”) and the transitions between time periods are awkward and require the reader a few moments to continually readjust. Also, I found the main character to be a bit contradictory. As a survivor of abuse, she is prone to keeping secrets although she eventually finds great relief and peace once she finally divulges her abusive past to friends and family. Despite this, she finds it absolutely reasonable to keep secrets from her new love interest. So, we are led to assume that some secrets are acceptable and absolution is purely discretionary.
All in all, not the worst novel I’ve ever read, but it was lacking on several fronts: the characters were somewhat flat, the plot was thin, and finally reaching the end of the book was akin to treading water—there’s just not that much to hold onto.
* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com