Let the Willows Weep by Sherry Parnell

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With her voice long hardened from smoking Kent cigarettes, she spat out commands and insults that tore at your heart. I guess my father left before there was nothing left of his.

Children are victims of their parents circumstances, more often than not. The leaving between their parents feels more like abandonment of them, particularly when left behind with the domineering person one parent fled. I love a good southern fiction, and the willows will weep for Birddog Harlin, whose own mother has endured a rage that hardened her when her own father fled her mother’s meanness long ago. A slamming door echoes through the decades, turning a little girl into a hard woman who doesn’t have empathy for her own child, Birddog.

Birddog is nothing but a disappointment to her mother, protected by her beloved older brother Denny ( who seems to give the only scrap of niceness in her life), more often than not she is dodging her  rival, other brother Caul’s inborn meanness. Naturally the boys can do no wrong; the sun rises upon their shoulders, Denny’s in particular. Birddog adds to her mothers worries, fighting with boys, often covered in mud, her messiness the reason her mother can’t invite respectable ladies over for tea. Nothing like her beautiful mother, who her father admires so, despite her disappointment with the meager life his job as a miner gives them. Certainly not the low down job she ever wants her boys to do. Her adult life is just as tough as her youth was, slaving all day with chores, feeding her family, raising an impossible, disobedient, little girl are just some of the complaints that fill the air between she and her husband. Birddog knows her father feels shamed by her mother, but at some point her rage will always turn to her instead. When he defends his daughter Birddog it only strengthens her wrath.

Her mother wants nothing more than to enjoy tea with the ‘refined ladies’ of the town, just another thing a miner’s pay will never afford her. Worse, the gossip she is positive her shameless daughter inspires with her unladylike behavior makes that an impossibility. Birddog knows the truth of how things stand, as well as her father does. That just they don’t even exist in the eyes of polite society. If not for Daddy’s intervention, life would be nothing but darkness. Mother’s desire for better makes it impossible to feel and see just how much her husband adores her, and after a tragic turn of events, it’s too late to change things.

Weighted down by a deep blanket of grief, the children now have to step into adult decisions to keep the family afloat. Choices narrow for Denny as steps into his father’s shoes, Birddog’s mother is still jealous of the bond she had with her father, and a parting gift seals the distance between them. Caul comes into his own and seems to sail further from them, everything changes and mother fears all her children leaving. On the same breath, afraid of being left alone, she rips into Birddog- who still can’t live up to the sort of daughter she desires. Laziness won’t be tolerated, and soon Birddog is forced to take a job working for Ms. Tarmar who will teach her more than sewing, share her wisdom with her and have more room for compassion than her own mother.

Love finds her older brother Denny, and it finds Birddog too. Nothing is more doomed than forbidden love, as she will soon learn when she meets a caretaker named Samuel and his sweet, childlike brother Diggs. If only one could love away from the eyes of their ‘own kind’. This is another shame she’ll bring upon her family, and no one will forgive it. For a time, this man will open her eyes and heart to genuine love and kindness. But as he tells her, “there ain’t no place for that kind of love in this kind of world.” They don’t know how true his words are, and what love will cost both of them, body and soul.

This is how people become hardened, the world will beat you down, if you don’t know how to rise. No one escapes the pain loving brings, and maybe Birddog isn’t so different from her mother after-all.

Let the Willows Weep is about poverty, love, intolerance, shame, racism and family dysfunction. Rage is a circle that even the wisest who wish to escape can become trapped in. How is one to hope when life just keeps bringing you nothing but grief and loss? Love takes such strange shapes, it gives and takes indiscriminately in this sad tale. For those who love southern fiction with enough grit to make your eyes water.

Published October 2019

 

 

Take Me Apart: A Novel by Sara Sligar

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That was how it was sometimes, in the archive. Big discoveries sandwiched between trash. The day-to-day touching the phenomenal.

Kate Aitken, now an ex-journalist (copy editor), has a chance for a clean slate, it’s time to leave New York, which has become contaminated for her. Kate’s life has imploded, and a very important man has taken measures to make sure she does not find work anywhere. When Theo Brand, son of famed photographer Miranda Brand, hires her to archive his late mother’s work it is a chance for her to start fresh- in California. Her aunt is there, which is both a good thing and trying. It won’t be easy, not with a woman whose death is surrounded by mystery and rumors, many that follow Theo like a dark shadow. He confesses his mother was a bit of a pack rat, so one never knows what treasure or trash Kate will uncover. Theo himself isn’t the easiest man to figure out, nor the warmest and it certainly doesn’t help when her own aunt is sure he is worse than the locals say. That maybe he was involved in his mother’s mysterious death, despite being a child when she died.

Her own life in a tailspin of sorts, Kate wonders if taking this job makes her vulnerable to danger. Sifting through the house most people would kill to snoop through, it is hard to separate fact from fiction. Could the many rumors and conspiracies be born from truth, isn’t that often the case? Doesn’t her own life have its own secrets and lies? Hasn’t she learned that a man can hide his dark nature behind his success, wealth and name? Is she attracted to Theo, or are the intense emotions, racing heart she feels around him a warning? After-all, she knows that attraction and panic often set off the same feelings within a person. Could he be as bad as everyone claims?  It’s hard to think so seeing him interact with his children, even if her presence seems to upset something in him.

Excavating Miranda Brand’s past is an emotional journey. Despite her awe inspiring talent, behind the artist was a woman who was falling apart, questioning herself, coping with the fragility of her mind. Everything Kate discovers feels like an exposure of a woman who wanted her private life to remain sealed. Art should stand alone, not be influenced by the person behind it. Instead of a contained woman, Kate discovers confessions, and painful admissions. Here was a woman who found mothering challenging and her marriage no better as it was under intense strain. A woman lacking much needed compassion and support, instead had a husband who seemed both exhausted by her needs and competitive over her work. Miranda missed who she was before the life she and her husband Jake created together. What made her decide to leave it, in such a dramatic, horrific fashion? Will Kate uncover more than Theo wants her too?

Their relationship is unbalanced already, Kate arrives with her own future in ruins while Theo appears to be a man who has his life together. There belies a coldness in his desire to wrap up his mother’s life, now that his father is gone and he is free to take charge of the past and all it’s dirty secrets. For Theo, Miranda wasn’t a famous artist who died at the height of her career, she was his mother, at times a distant star physically and mentally. Why does he resent her? Seem to hate her?

Answers may lie in Miranda’s diary, a discovery Kate intends to keep from Theo. It soon becomes obvious he has ulterior motives, could well be misleading and using her- but why? Her own wounds are fresh, the remnants of her own therapy sessions are a lifeboat to cling to as she sorts through Miranda’s past. Kate’s own narrative is as elusive, a thing we glimpse in starts and stops. Everything Miranda was suffering, particularly sensitive information that got out in public, is easy for Kate to relate to- however uncomfortable it feels. There are so many ways a woman is stripped of her armor.

Two women, decades separating them, face metamorphism of the self. This is who I wanted to be, this is who life demanded me to become. For Miranda, her husband is unforgiving, treating her after her unraveling as something he is chained too. Kate’s fall from grace is a different sort of humiliation, an utter failure of the self. There are abuses both women suffer at the hands of men with the upper hand. For women, it is all about how people interpret you, be it your behavior, decisions, weaknesses, mental state or refusal to give in when it’s demanded of you.

Death is silence, but Miranda could still have the last word. Does that frighten Theo? What if the truth challenges the story men, like he and his father, have controlled? What about Kate and her own voice, her own past? Is it wise to get tangled in desire for Theo? What if… what if Miranda was murdered?

What kept me reading was Miranda’s story and how she was mistreated, demeaned and misinterpreted- even after her death. Though the person hardest on her, as is often the case with women, was herself. What it nails is how narrative can alter lives, for better or worse. Sometimes the truth must lie in wait, but it will have it’s pound of flesh. Sometimes it pushes us to be more too. Kate was harder for me to bond with, but Miranda- I think Miranda echoes what many women go through and feel too ashamed to give voice. Theo was important, but he wasn’t the heart of the story for me anymore than the attraction between he and Kate. I was in it for Miranda. You could feel the pain of feeling judged, especially for things you cannot help. How easy it is to fall from grace for showing yourself as a fragile human being and why people try and hide when they feel themselves slipping. The breaking is so much worse when the one who is meant to be your anchor fails you. A strong character in Miranda if the others lacked substance. She was worth reading!

Publication Date: April 28. 2020

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 

The Last Summer of Ada Bloom by Martine Murray

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A foreboding had gotten inside Ada and she couldn’t get it out again. Something felt threatening and inevitable.

The Bloom family unravels during one summer, but the fault lines were there long before. If Ada and Tilly’s mother Martha is ‘straining against the confines of her life’ then Tilly is straining against the confines of youth. It may well be that the endless possibilities for her daughter’s future reminds Martha of her own failures and roads not taken that are closed to her now. At seventeen Tilly has ‘taken on grown up airs’ and the distance between the sisters makes Ada feel lonely. Observing her sister is like being tangled up in a mystery that is waiting around the corner for her too. Then there are boys who will take notice too. Martha still has Ada to mother, but life is one big dissatisfaction, she feels time rushing along and nothing to show for it all, with the exception of her three children. Martha knows they won’t need her for long and now her body is beginning to slowly ‘undo’. Her desire has plummeted, but she still loves her husband Mike, doesn’t she? The true test may come with the arrival of ‘an old flame’, but nothing is as it seems, and the biggest mystery may not be the shucking of their daughter’s youth but the turmoil that arises with his visit.

Son Ben is the adored one, given far more freedom than Tilly, though he is only 15.  Ben even has his own Bungalow, being Martha’s favorite, which of course is heaven for him. It never sits well with Tilly, who knows if there were ever a threat, he’d be the first one saved. Martha is cold to Tilly, if love is an effort with her husband Mike, it seems more so when it comes to her eldest child. The biting words seem to escape of their own volition when she interacts with her daughter, her jealousy and regrets arising with the blossoming of Tilly. Martha is far more demanding with her, and the weight of her mother’s ugliness, evident in Tilly’s sadness doesn’t inspire shame or pity in Martha, but strangely more anger. It’s painful to witness, but the reasons Martha pushes Tilly away are more about Martha and her past. The stink of secrets we throw down the well of our past can easily be detected. Martha isn’t as indifferent as she seems. In her clouded mind, every single person in her mediocre life is failing her while she does her best to pretend that all is well.

Mike isn’t any happier, thinking of his wife and her severe ‘unnecessary scrutiny’ of all things, her disappointment with their conventional lives and Arnold’s swooping in and upsetting the balance. Why was his approval once so vital to Mike? Arnold who ‘had always been a silence between them.’ He is proud of his little life, of the family he made, but he is still a man who needs to feel the pulse of being alive. Why should he feel like he can live up to what Martha needs? Why isn’t what they have made enough?

Ada’s curious nature is fed by an abandoned well and rusted old windmill, all sorts of things can end up in that abyss. Maybe even the innocence of childhood. Ada sees something that changes the structure of her family, and burdens her with secrets that should never have to be shared. The adults are failing each other, and everyone in between. A story of family fractures, shame, regrets, betrayal and blossoming- sometimes you have to shed the old ways to be born into something new. But do they have enough hope in their hearts? Can you make good on all the pain you have caused to hide from your own shame?

Ada’s naivety took me back to that fragile time when you are on the cusp of understanding, when knowledge seems to spoil one’s carefree existence. It starts when she feels something is off, but doesn’t quite comprehend what she instinctively knows. The relationship between Tilly and Ada is tender, even if it feels like Tilly is drifting away. Even sisterhood can lose it’s balance, without ill intentions. It’s easy to be hard on Martha, but she is a mess trying to contain itself and Mike fails his children too, in a big way. Ben is self-centered, and of course it’s forgivable in a boy, especially as the favored son but for me the heart of the novel is born from past transgressions. Motherhood certainly doesn’t fit every woman like a glove, and sometimes the worst in us is so hard to overcome, as can be the things that happen to us. I really liked it, it is far more realistic than explosive dramas, it’s the silences between partners that make for the richer novels.

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Tin House Books

Godshot: A Novel by Chelsea Bieker

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I was thinking in glitter and gold. Thinking, with my hands raised in praise right there in the shower, of Vern’s original miracle, the way he’d cured the town of drought years before when I was just seven years old.

Call it fanatical religion or a cult, it’s a fine line here my friends. Vern will bring the rain to this drought ridden land of Peaches, California. What was once a fruitful, prosperous place is dry as the devil’s heart. It is through ‘assignments’ that the rain will come, there will no longer be barren crops, for God has control and through faith and obedience the holy will be saved. The people are desperate and downtrodden, some proud men have even taken their own lives for the shame of it. Vern is their only hope for salvation, for he is the one who has God’s attention. He has proven he has the perfect holiness within him and 14-year-old Lacey May’s grandma Cherry was witness to it all, a devotee of Vern’s ever since.

Lacey May’s mother Louise Herd is an alcoholic, a disaster as a parent. She has her beauty though, a means to bring evil doers to the church, beauty as dangling carrots for such men. But like all women she must be clean, and boozing one’s days away, keeping a filthy house, taking up with wild men are just more marks against this stained women, already marked with a bastard daughter. In a moment of grand betrayal, chewing on  rotted memories of the many times her mother has failed her through selfishness, instability and her addiction, Lacey May chooses Vern, damning her mother in front of the congregation. They are all too happy to see her finally brought down, this evil woman who is ‘always out looking for the devil’. How could she know what the consequences would be, in speaking her truth? How could she have known her mother was keeping her safe all this time with silence, that despite her stained soul, it was Lacey May she was protecting? It’s too late now, her Judas kiss sets off a chain of events, her mother is banished and leaves with a man, a stranger.

Lacey May will find out what ‘assignments’ entail for young women like herself. As she searches to find out what happened to her mother, she comes in to contact with unholy people in the town, like the Diviners: A Lady on the Line (phone sex workers). Witches who would love nothing more than to strike men dead, if Vern and his people are to be believed. She longs for her mother, where is she? Why doesn’t her Grandma Cherry care about her own daughter’s fate? Now that enlightenment is dawning on Lacey May, she understands men are meant to lead the church and it will cost no one more than her. Everything that is expected of her, that she blindly agrees to, begins to feel wrong. It’s too late now, what’s done is done and there is no going back. Her own mother’s words were truer than she knew. “Get used to it,” she said. “Women have a long history of suffering.”

Girls don’t need their mothers, do they? But there is so much she hadn’t taught her yet, things a girl needs to know to make sense of the world, and themselves. All these terrible biting things she didn’t understand. In some ways, she is very much her mother’s daughter, filled with her passion. Could she too have a “natural disposition toward sin”, her Grandma Cherry will keep her on the clean, on the straight and narrow. Now her cousin Lyle is going to help guide her on the right path, help her with her bible studies. He gets closer to her as God shines upon him. There is a stranger come to town named Stringy, the lawn painter, someone who will notice her beauty now that her mother is no longer there to pull the eyes away. Power is humming beneath the surface, something big is coming, bigger than Vern’s first miracle. They must all remain humble servants, in order to receive the ‘perfect holiness’, from whatever vessel Vern deems worthy to deliver it.

There is blind faith and faith born out of witnessing miracles, or maybe it’s great timing? We believe what we need to. What can induce faith greater than feeling as though you are highly prized? Chosen? This is how we wrong our girls, our women, and it isn’t just the men partaking of purity. Sometimes a trapped bug prefers the burning light, because it promises such warmth. It’s easier not to question too many things, for how can anyone question what God asks of you, or your body?

It’s the girls who assure a congregation will grow in numbers. Fear is the way to get what you want, fear and blindness. But there comes a time when the cracks appear, the filth, the cheapness of it all, and that is when you truly see your life for what it has become. That is when the turning away begins, and it is all doomed to failure.

It’s painful to witness and not so far fetched as in times of mean desperation, people will cling to the wildest beliefs if they’re scared. Of course, somehow girls or women seem to be the ones sacrificing. Yes read it, get Godshot yourself with a dose of Vern and his delusional followers. There is no shortage on novel’s in this vein, cults (religious and otherwise) but here, with failing crops, drought it makes it easier to relate to why they fall under the sway of Vern.  It’s a solid story, when beliefs chafe against reality, you either close your eyes or accept you have been fooled. The writing is beautiful, I felt like I was in Lacey May’s confused little mind and body. Not always an easy thing to accomplish in a novel. Can’t wait to read more from Chelsea Bieker.

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Catapult

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Second Home: A Novel by Christina Clancy

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“I tell her she needs to learn how to be in the present.” Brad said, “The present is a hard place to be sometimes.”

Families, someone once said, are like countries. They have their differences, their war zones, their isolated places. There are secrets that are swept under the rug or kept under lock and key. Some change every relationship, some bring siblings closer. Summers can bring new beginnings or dreadful endings, and for one family a summer changed everything. The story begins with Ann reminiscing about her parents as she meets the realtor planning the sell the summer home her parent’s owned in Cape Cod, “the house felt like it was less a place they’d left behind than a place they’d planned to return to.” Shivering with memories, she knows it’s vital she has the place up for sale in time for the summer people. She and her sister Poppy will split the proceeds, Noah will have money for his college fund, the financial boost will make their lives easier. She happens upon a family photo and in it, Michael. Michael, their adopted brother- as Ann feels the picture like a burn in her hands, immediately the reader knows there is a story there.

Due to the suddenness of their parents death, there is no will. But surely, despite having two houses to sell, both Poppy and Ann will be in agreement. Poppy lives a life “like a long summer vacation”, constant to nothing. There is a bite in that thought, in a sister who doesn’t seem to be present enough. But what about Michael, the adopted son? Where is he in all of this? If they have to lie about the title being in the all clear, so be it. With that decision, we are in the past.

Michael enters the Gordon’s lives as more than a visitor, still feeling like an outsider. The beautiful house, unfamiliar to the type of world he lives in, seems to be ‘buzzing with life’. He learns their family traditions, their history, all ‘the stuff of legend’ right away, and despite the fact he should feel lucky that they saved him from the fate of a foster home upon his mother’s death, he sometimes feels like they rub their perfect lives in his face. That fact that he doesn’t belong in their perfect world is only more apparent when they run to the shore and his hesitates in terror, rather than plunging in like Poppy. It is then that he runs away from the ocean, telling Ed and Connie find he just wants to go back to the house but the family have news that will fill his heart with their love. But with any blessing, there is always a catch, and it makes family life complicated for the young teen.

Ann is 17, cringing under the watchful, protective eyes of her parents when she starts working for The Shaws. As a nanny/helper, it isn’t long before she gets a little too close to the couple and their children. privy to grown up problems, emotions. She is growing up too fast for her own good, learning adult secrets that are better left unknown.  Poppy spends the summer on her own, learning to surf, making new friends, the early days of her bohemian style. Put off because the family seems to run without her approval, even if she loves Michael it would have been nice to voice an opinion. A common woe of many last born children in a family. Michael notices that Ann seems obsessed with the Shaws and their big house, big lives. Irritated by the handsome couple eclipsing their importance in Ann’s life, feeling bored, lonely until Ann saves him again with an opportunity, a job working for the dreaded Shaws. It is when he meats Jason, the Shaws gardener and begins working for him that he too finds a passion in this ‘grunt work.’

Their summer begins with so much promise, but there are snarls in this perfect season and by the end of it, they will carry a bitter seed back home. Manipulation, lies, betrayal and leverage. When you love someone to the core, you’ll do anything to secure their future, even if it means destroying your own. Michael learns the hard way what being family means. Liars hold all the cards, and know just how to deal them so they remain the winner. People don’t get to the top without playing dirty. Ann is naive, but she goes from being this caring, sweet, strong willed girl who is the reason Michael is with the family at all to losing all sense of intelligence. Of course, fear plays a big role here, still… something just didn’t follow for me.

Just what did Ed and Connie do wrong in their parenting to cause such an unraveling? There is nothing but distance between the children, great distance for years!

The present, Michael is back and making a claim on the house. The story as it’s been told is falling apart, Poppy is once again shocked to find herself the last to know the truth. Ann hasn’t always been honest, and what she believed about Michael and about her nephew Noah’s origins may have all been a big lie. Does an heir who walked out on the family, breaking their parent’s hearts really deserve the chance to stake his claim? What makes it a solid women’s fiction pick is the seduction and abuse, that I don’t want to go too deeply into. It’s so easy to lead a young girl where you want them to go, that part is sadly too common. Still, in some ways the villain has an easy time of it.

This is a complicated tale about the love, desire, abuse, and loss one family must endure. The loss isn’t just in the death of Connie and Ed, but the closeness and support siblings should have had. Can the truth come too late? All it takes is one carefully constructed lie to change the direction all the children take. It’s sad, the wasted time, the broken hearts. It’s a good story, even if I found what happened a bit hard to pull off but life is stranger than fiction so you never know. I felt Ed and Connie would have gotten to the bottom of everything, but that’s just my take. I wish there was more time spent with Ann, Poppy and Michael as siblings before the rot set in, so it would be easier to understand the pain Poppy felt too. I actually liked Poppy’s role, in so many families the youngest is left out of the important decisions, and stories (especially involving sordid things), which often makes them feel adrift. So it made sense she later floats through her life. A good read.

Publication Date: June 2, 2020

St. Martin’s Press

142 Ostriches: A Novel by April Davila

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At worst, you lived a life bent by compromise until you woke up one day worn-out and bitter because you let someone talk you into a life you never wanted in the first place.

Grandma Helen just made a big exit from her life and now her granddaughter Tallulah Jones is responsible for running her Ostrich Ranch in the Mojave Desert.  The problem is Tallulah has plans to work with the Forest Service and had just received an acceptance letter assigning her to a fire prevention handcrew in Montana before this disaster. Grandma Helen would have none of it and tried to convince Tallulah to stay. Unsurprisingly, her grandchild couldn’t be swayed, so she found a way to keep her tied in to the land. Grandma Helen up and died, mysteriously in an accident. Was it really an accident? Through the coming days, with the ranch as her inheritance, Tallulah is struggling to keep up with the endless, exhausting work. Collecting eggs, feeding the ostriches took long enough even with their old routine, but left to complete the tasks alone takes endless hours. One person is not made to maintain an ostrich ranch alone! The birds all all depressed without their beloved caregiver and there isn’t much she can do to fix that. It has to be sold!

Tallulah has a plan, no way is she going to compromise in her life, “there was one more card I could play.” But the ostriches aren’t cooperating and have suddenly stopped laying eggs! She is going to sell this place off come hell or high water, if the family doesn’t like it, too bad. They had little interest in the place, all this time, no one more so than her absentee mother. Still, no one is going to make it easy. Her unpredictable Uncle Scott arrives with his sponsor Matt in tow (as a babysitter, he says), dangerous when high but not much better when sober. His anger flares with the news she is selling, and the blatantly unfair fact that his inheritance is nothing more than a measly watch does nothing but feed his fire. Things are about to blow. Aunt Christine has her hands full raising her 5 girls and pregnant again with another ‘blessing’. Sprouting scripture, will it do her any good when life tests her as well? Then there is Devon, who wants to know what’s going on in Tallulah’s head, not just set her body aflame. He longs for permanence and promises, expecting her job away to be a temporary escape. But to Tallulah, he is starting to feel like another anchor, holding her to this place that she wants nothing more than to abandon. Which brings to mind her own alcoholic restless mother. Addiction runs through the family, with her own mother’s love affair with the bottle, her uncle’s constant highs on drugs and her aunt’s unwavering love of religion. Her Grandma Helen wasn’t always so put together either.

Before she turned 13, Tallulah learned how to live a tumbleweed existence at her mother’s side. Ripped free from the roots of family, men coming and going, no clue as to who her father is, picking up and moving, the two of them blowing in the wind, never still for long.  A life without routine or stability, living in cheap places among things salvaged for free, until one day Grandma Helen appears as sudden as a cloud, demanding her mother let her take her granddaughter under her wing. Her mother doesn’t put up much of a fight, despite the fact Grandma Helen is a stranger to Tallulah, and seems to turn her nose up at their meager lives. As if making a full circle in her mother’s place, she grows up with the ostriches from then on, in the very place her own mother escaped.  It isn’t so bad being cared about, paid attention to nor getting to know her extended family. It’s soothing caring for the peculiar ostriches, working in the barn, being surrounded by animals. But the severing from her fickle mother is an ache. The distance and seeming indifference scars over her heart as the years collect, until the past arrives, begging for attention.

Life is moving on at a fast pace, everything is falling apart, the ostriches aren’t cooperating anymore than her family and it is detrimental to the sale that their failure to lay eggs remains unknown. But that is the least of her problems, worse is soon to befall them all and the biggest threat comes from her own blood. Does she care about the ostriches more than she thought? Are they more than just a means to an end? Her decisions could cost Tallulah her very life, not everyone is open to change, and does she even know her own mind, understand her choices? Why is settling down and committing to one man repellent? How can she betray her grandmother’s last wishes? As she fights to see her plans succeed, Tallulah learns the age old lesson of the best laid plans.

I learned a bit about ostriches, very cool and strange birds! Addiction wreaking havoc through generations is sadly all too common. This is become a sort of new normal, sadly, in our times. Too, the confusion of youth, not sure of your place in the world, whirling in many directions with past and present affecting your relationships, clouding your desires. This is an author worth watching.

Available Now

Published February 2020

Kensington Books

 

 

 

Love After Love: A Novel by Ingrid Persaud

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Thing is, worse than the pain in my arm is Sunil’s spirit in the house. The man in the walls, on the stairs, in the rooms. Before he passed he must have put the bad eye on me for truth. 

Love After Love is an interesting title for this novel, because it is about love but not the sort we tend to seek out with romanticized notions. Love here is far stronger between friends and family than in lovers, forced into terrible situations and entanglements for passion. Written in Trinidadian dialect it may take some readers time to get into the flow, but I feel it lends a more authentic flavor to the tale. It begins with Betty Ramdin’s husband Sunil, stinking of rum and feeling big and mean after ‘working hard all week’ he is taking everything out on Betty and their little boy Solo. From the way Betty caters to him, the ugliness spewing from his hateful mouth and her terror as she watches him bully Solo it’s obvious she is like a beaten down dog, trained on the scent of her husband’s brutality. It’s for her son that she fears, who she tries to protect, often inserting herself to do the things Sunil demands of Solo, so that when his clumsy little boy hands fail he won’t get punished. To think people told her she was lucky, looking at Betty with Sunil by her side, but what sort of lucky leaves you with broken bones and a cowering child? Sunil may be dead in a few pages, but his poison has spread and his death will have damaging consequences through the years, testing the bounds of love between mother and son.

Betty is a good mother, trying to raise her boy right once she’s free from the imprisonment of a bad marriage but living in the big old house she could use money and a lodger would be ideal. After giving Mr. Chetan (her co-worker) a ride one morning, Betty mentions she needs a lodger, if he knows of anyone needing a place, particularly a mature woman, it would help her greatly. This in turn becomes the perfect opportunity for Mr. Chetan, as fate would have it, his landlord is selling everything thanks to the misfortune of crime. A gentle, quiet, private man he will be no hardship, though Betty herself seems to be talkative and possibly a meddler in time the two come to mean as much to each other as devoted spouses.

Both Mr. Chetan and Betty have shameful secrets, even criminal to some minds, but in life we are pushed to make choices to save ourselves, and others. There are rules about love and in Trinidad trying to embrace who you are under the condemning eyes of the people can be one’s ruination. People are fast to talk, Betty learns this all too well as she ventures out for a man’s touch, much to her son Solo’s humiliation. Despite Mr. Chetan’s role in his life, a type of surrogate father and a far better one than his own departed dad, when Solo discovers what his mother has kept hidden from him he concocts a plan and with his savings soon abandons their life and flees to live with his paternal uncle in New York. Betty thinks it’s temporary, but he wants nothing more than to be free of her and her lies, to cut her out like a cancer. In the process, he pushes Mr. Chetan to take a backseat role too, and the thing about leaving is that you can’t always return to the people you have left.

The dynamics change once Solo is gone, Chetan is living his life more freely, maybe more for himself finally when someone from the past is again in his life. Betty is yearning to hear about her son’s experience in America, jealous of the closeness he has with his uncle while she is again like a dog begging for a bone, resorting to sending letters to the boy who refuses to see sense in her explanations. He is keen on his pain, and finds many outlets for it.

Solo struggles in New York but feels good being a part of the Ramdin men under his Uncle Hari’s guidance, and no longer under the ‘suffocating’ care of his mother, who kept him a blind fool. Hari tells him it won’t be easy working hard jobs, he should stay in school as his dad would have wanted that but having Solo around he tells him ‘Every time I look at you I seeing piece of Sunil.’  Solo cannot go back to Trinidad and his mother’s lies. Through Uncle Hari, Solo can get to know the father who is just a fading memory and cling to the toxic blame he feels is all his mother’s due. The truth, the same as people, has many faces and may well turn us against the very people who made dangerous decisions for our sake. It will cost Solo, his mother Betty and Mr. Chetan time that they will never get back.  Solo has a lot to learn and finds he is more like his mother than he thinks; getting a mother who has cared for you all your life out of your system isn’t so easy.

In this story some people’s love is so pure they are willing to risk their very soul and yet others can’t find enough heart to accept their child for who they are. Some are so hungry for love they will tolerate any sort of arrangement just to feel alive, to be near their beloved and society itself forces people into dangerous situations just to feel the burn of it. Love shouldn’t cost this much. Shame weighs more than the soul can bear, but how do you release it’s grip? “The moon can run but the day will always catch it.” There is family dysfunction, grief, abuse, distorted memory, mother’s pure love and then some. Here, Mr. Chetan is the glue between Betty and Solo, for that it is a savage and beautiful love story.

Publication Date: April 14, 2020

Random House Publishing

One World

A QUICK NOTE: There are sexual encounters that may put off some readers but it is not the sole focus, keep going with the novel. It broke my heart.