Friday, February 18, 2011

2-in-1: Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman & The Outer Banks House by Diann Ducharme

1. Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman

The book's synopsis from the author's website:

Red Hook Road: A NovelSet on the coast of Maine over the course of four summers, Red Hook Road tells the story of two families, the Tetherlys and the Copakens, and of the ways in which their lives are unraveled and stitched together by misfortune, by good intentions and failure, and by love and calamity.
A marriage collapses under the strain of a daughter’s death; two bereaved siblings find comfort in one another; and an adopted young girl breathes new life into her family with her prodigious talent for the violin. As she writes with obvious affection for these unforgettable characters, Ayelet Waldman skillfully interweaves life’s finer pleasures—music and literature—with the more mundane joys of living.
Red Hook Road is a wonderful novel. Exactly the type of contemporary American fiction that I appreciate the most. The writing is like a song, flows easily and beautifully, despite the many descriptive passages. There is a lot of them, mostly as insight to people's thoughts in the wake of a terrible tragedy that forces all those affected to be more introspective. Although it's not really mentioned, the closest family of the couple got a 'wake-up' call on how short and unexpected life really is. In face of that fact, how each of them tries to go on is very engaging, especially for someone with a little bit of voyeuristic nature like me.

It may all sound boring to some of you, but believe me, Ms. Waldman made sure the novel was anything but. Somehow (I'm sure her talent had something to do with it), Red Hook Road turned out to be fascinating, without a boring passage in there. And even though it's heartbreaking, it's also a story that gives hope which I always appreciate, as there can never be too much hope. (Psst...don't tell, but I think I might even prefer Ms. Waldman's style to her husband's, Michael Chabon).

2. The Outer Banks House by Diann Ducharme

The book's synopsis from the author's website:

The Outer Banks House: A NovelIn 1868, on the barren shores of post-war Outer Banks North Carolina, the disconnected Sinclair family moves for the summer to one of the first cottages on the ocean side of the resort village of Nags Head. In the simple and isolated Outer Banks house, they see their deepest desires manifested in dramatic ways.

Nolan Sinclair, the once wealthy and powerful planter from Edenton, North Carolina, is fearful of losing his plantation in the Reconstruction aftermath of the Civil War. In a desperate act of assertion, he moves his family and servants to the unusual house on the sand. There, on the porch of the cottage, his 17-year-old daughter, beautiful, book-smart and boxed-in Abigail, is encouraged to teach her father’s fishing guide, good-natured, ambitious and penniless 19-year-old Benjamin Whimble, how to read and write. The two come to understand, and then to love each other, despite the demands of their parents, the pursuit of prim and proper medical student Hector Newman, and Ben’s longtime relationship with sour-tongued net-mender, Eliza Dickens.
This was my first book set in the post-Civil War time and even though it sparked my interest to read more, as it sounds like a difficult but fascinating time in American history, The Outer Banks House didn't really 'start the fire' for me. It is an ambitious subject, or many subjects, Diann took on in this book, including the Ku Klux Klan, the fate of freed slaves, even the change in status for plantation owners, who now have to deal with no free workforce and inevitable loss of money, prestige, so on and so forth. It's plenty of issues to write about and the book is only 300 pages. In my opinion it's not long enough and as a result some of these things felt superficial or slightly neglected.

On the bright side, I enjoyed the characters of Abigail and Ben and their budding romance. It didn't feel fake or forced to me. Abigail was a very likable girl who despite her upbringing managed to still know right from wrong and stand up for what she believed was right. I always admire that in characters. I'd like to read more of this couple and where life leads them and how they find their place in this post-Civil War world where nothing seems certain, especially in the South.