Wednesday, August 4, 2010

book review: Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman

Red Hook Road
The backstory: I've enjoyed Ayelet Waldman's essays in the past, and she's one of my favorite authors to follow on Twitter because she's funny, kind and passionate. When I was presented with the opportunity to read her new novel, I jumped at the chance to experience her fiction, and I'm so glad I did.

The basics: Red Hook Road is the story of two families united by marriage and the tragedy of the bride and groom being killed en route from their wedding to the reception. The story spreads out over four summers in Red Hook, Maine, where the bride's family summers and the groom's family are long-time, working class residents. There's a cultural divide as these families lives intersect.

My thoughts: Tragedy strikes early in this novel, and it didn't affect me very deeply because I wasn't yet invested in the characters. It certainly affected me, but it didn't resonate with me. I was curious how Waldman would treat a story with tragedy at its beginning. Clearly, there is no proper way for these families to act. As the bride's mother often ponders, there is no word in the English language for her relationship to her daughter's husband of one hour's family, yet their lives are inextricably linked in some way.

Despite my initial emotional distance from these characters, I read this novel in a single sitting. I was entranced by the situation, the character's reactions and Waldman's writing. Before long, I was deeply emotionally involved, and I slowly began realizing how brilliantly Waldman constructed her narrative. She's a truly gifted writer who exhibited immense patience and intuition with the pacing of this novel.

I'm still a newlywed, and I imagine part of my fascination with this novel is the idea of in-laws, especially in new marriages. At what point does love (or marriage) transcend family? If my husband or I were to die, at what point would we stop keeping in touch with each other's families. If there were children involved, the answer would be far more clear cut, and the characters in this novel deal with these issues against the backdrop of an idyllic Maine town where summer residents and year-round residents deal with issues of belonging all the time. Despite my personal fascination with family systems theory, I think the themes of this novel will resonate strongly with all readers.

I'm turning thirty later this summer, and I take particular joy and solace in this bit of advice (from a librarian!): "Another thing I have learned in my life is that nothing one does in one's twenties, short of having a child, is irrevocable."  (page 196)

The verdict: It's a book I loved more and more as it went on. While the story and characters gripped me from the beginning, I didn't notice the depth of Waldman's narrative until the end when all of the seemingly connected pieces because inextricably intertwined in a powerful way. It's a beautifully complex and skillfully structured novel that reads smoothly and easily. Recommended for fans of literary fiction and women's fiction.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 352 pages
Publication date: July 13, 2010
Source: I received this book for review from the publisher

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  1. Wonderful review. I like books that grow on me - of course I prefer to be drawn in immediately, but it's so nice to get to the end of a book and suddenly realize I've loved it.

    I'll be reading this one before the end of the month and I'm really looking forward to it!

  2. I love the sound of this! I've also been meaning to read Waldman's Bad Mother for so long. And you're absolutely right; she's great to follow on Twitter!

  3. Great review! I really want to read this one, it's our book club pick for next month!


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