Sunday, December 21, 2014

Not just a bend in the road...

Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman

I had no real expectations when I started reading this book. I have read one other book written by Waldman (the first in her Mommy Track Mystery series), and after meeting her in April 2014 and listening to her speak about her newest release, Love and Treasure, I was aware that she is an "eclectic" writer. This book was quite a dramatic rendition of family tragedy and its aftermath, much different from the Mommy Mystery series! (Though I have all the other installments of this series on my TBR list! I really liked the first one...)

Although this was quite a poignant story overall, it left me with a feeling of hope that all would work out in the end. A nod to the perseverance of the human spirit to not only survive, but thrive, despite life's challenges. I love how the book ends, and without that, I believe my overall feelings about and reactions to this book would have been much more subdued. The author deftly tied the story together through the  Prelude and the Coda, the latter leaving the reader with a rendition of the catastrophic incident at Jacob's Cove to ponder...

I could not begin to imagine the grief one would experience as either John or Becca's parent. And being an only child, I have no earthly idea of the intense grief of losing a brother or sister; Ruthie and Matt definitely had their share of catastrophe regarding their respective siblings' sudden and too-early deaths. The manifestations of this grief were, in some ways, predictable. They both seemed to have lost their moorings as they each abandoned their educational plans required to achieve their career goals. However, they appeared to go further and actually take on the roles of John and Becca, each seemingly recreating or continuing the life of their brother or sister, respectively. Interestingly, and perhaps to be expected, neither Ruthie nor Matt appeared to be truly happy or satisfied with these "pretend" roles. 

Waldman creates such pictures with words:

             At the next table Iris sat, her face gray and crumpled, like a used 
        tissue. Her mouth hung open, sagging at the corners, a thin string of 
        saliva wavering between her lower lip and the bodice of her silk gown. 
        Jane felt an unkind relief at seeing Iris's face made ugly by grief. 
        Usually the woman looked perfect, even when she wore her garden-
        ing clothes--a beat-up old straw hat, khaki shorts, and an old white 
        shirt of her husband's, tails hanging down her thighs. Jane would 
        rush in, sweaty and dirty from a day driving the girls from one 
        house to another, picking up a bottle of Windex if they were low,     
        swapping vacuums when one blew out, getting down on her hands 
        and knees to help scrub a floor if they were running behind, and 
        there Iris would be, cool and elegant, sipping a cup of tea on her 
        screen porch, a pile of papers on her lap, a pencil holding her mess 
        of curly black hair in a knot on top of her head. She always offered 
        Jane a cup and Jane always refused it. No need to sit through ten 
        minutes of awkward chitchat with someone with whom you had 
        nothing in common.

           Now, though, with her makeup smeared, blurring her features, 
        for once the woman looked worse than Jane.  (page 40)

I could relate to both Iris and Jane as people, but perhaps more so to Jane, since I have never lived at the same social stratum Iris enjoyed, but rather am much closer to Jane's level. I resonated so closely with Jane's refusal to join Iris for a "cuppa." What struck me was the fact that although Iris was a career woman, in reality, Jane's time was, much more "valuable" to her as the source of her livelihood. Jane earned much less, so had to work longer/more hours to support herself and her children (as a single parent) than did Iris who also had the benefit of a spouse's additional income. 
This is much as I had pictured The Rebecca.
One of the main characters of this novel is actually inanimate...the Rebecca, a wooden sailboat John works on for years, and then Matt takes over, actually completing the restoration. Not only did this work require dedication and manual labor, but also much money: John, Matt, and Ruthie contributed virtually all the money they earned; Becca (much to her mother's horror) donated proceeds from the sale of her "professional" violin; and Daniel kicked in $6,000. Upon completion, however, it could not be insured for under $13,000, and was therefore, unusable! Ironically, this Rebecca met its demise much as Becca had. Just as Becca and John, the sailboat was also not long-lived, actually never being "officially" sailed before the raging wind of a microburst storm literally smashes it into bits and pieces against the rocks. This "death" mirroring that of the two young adults on the cusp of truly "launching" their own lives together, thus releasing Ruthie and Matt to their own new beginnings yet once again...

Waldman's vivid characterization of family members in the wake of unthinkable tragedy makes this book not only unforgettable, but thought-provoking in the aftermath of having read it. This makes me even more anxious to read her newest release, Love and Treasure, which is historical fiction. Have you read anything written by this author? Did you like it? I would highly recommend her books. She is now on my list of favorite authors. 


  1. This book really does sound like it pulls at the emotional heartstrings!

    1. It certainly did for me! Have you read any of her books? She is an eclectic and varied writer and a really cool person!