Thursday, November 11, 2010

Red Hook Road - Ayelet Waldman (Audio)


When you reflect back on your life, there are certain events that you never forget. Births, weddings and deaths are among these. Beginnings and endings. The idea of death intruding on the sparkling optimism of a wedding isn't something I even want to allow myself imagine, so it was with trepidation that I listened to this audio. I went into it knowing there would be pain. Others who have read the book made assurances that hope outweighed grief, but I was skeptical.

Synopsis: Two families, one wealthy and one blue collar, one local and one From Away, come together on a cloudless Maine summer day to celebrate the wedding of John and Becca. Gossiping attendees, irritated relatives, a controlling mother of the bride, the father of the bride that brings two left dress shoes, a flower girl that forgets to throw the rose petals...predictable havoc. Only this day ends in tragedy...the bride and groom are killed in a car accident on the way to the reception.

The two families, neither whom like each other very much, and couldn't be more different, must struggle through their grief together and bury their children, the services held in the same church still bearing remnants of the wedding from days prior. Conflicts arise immediately, stemming from differences in religion, expenses and affordability, family plots, both sides playing the blame game and wrestling for the upper hand in a no-win situation.

Each summer, we revisit the families and get a glimpse of their grieving and healing. The battle of the mothers. The inability to get past the tragedy. The depression. The failing of a marriage. But there are shards of promise as well. A romance blossoms between John and Becca's siblings. Becca's grandfather, a professional`violinist and Holocaust survivor, finds a musical prodigy in John's niece and begins to tutor her. The two families begin to find common ground. The two families begin to move on.

My thoughts: I think that was a pathetic excuse for a synopsis. But I'm having trouble finding the right words to express the beauty and complexity of this story. Right out of the gate I'm going to tell you that this story is heart-breaking. I didn’t know John and Becca at the beginning of the story, so I felt sorrow at a distance. I was left amongst the survivors, who, as they went through the grieving process, reveal their memories of John and Becca as babies and toddlers, their antics, their personalities, how they met, their courtship, their dreams for the future. I felt the raw pain of the mothers, the fathers, the sister and brother, and I began to really hurt for their loss.

Then it became a complicated character study. John’s hard-working, no-nonsense mother Jane who resents the wealthy outsiders that invade her peaceful hometown. Becca’s father, Daniel, who turns to his old profession of boxing to get him through his darkest days. Iris, Becca’s headstrong mother, who painfully admits to herself that she always preferred her older daughter. Becca’s little sister Ruthie, a quiet, inward young woman who has only lived to please her mother. These fragile personalities struggle to make sense of John and Becca’s death, and try to move on with their lives while stumbling around blind and making serious mistakes along the way. Not all of them are likable, but are so very three-dimensional and resemble real people in all of our lives.

The colorful cast of characters isn’t the only thing competing for your attention and your heart in this story. Also playing a leading role is the small coastal town of Red Hook, Maine. The fresh lobsters, the local beer joint, the slow pace, and the community’s passion for sailing are things that you can almost smell and hear and taste as the words float by your eyes (or ears!).

All of this made an impact on me. I grieved with these folks, and slowly allowed myself to smile here and there as they found small pieces of joy. But what left me speechless and brought my thoughts back to the book for weeks after I finished, was the Coda. After becoming a part of the family, after developing a love for John and Becca through their relatives, Waldman takes us back to the last thirty minutes of their lives. The segment was almost dream-like; ghosts dancing on the beach, kissing and high on life. I had to go back and listen to it several times. It was masterful.

A few words about the audio production: Red Hook Road was narrated by Kimberly Farr, who is a veteran narrator (The 19th Wife, My Name is Mary Sutter, American Wife, My Life in France). She is pleasant to listen to and did a great job with various accents, including those wonderful Maine drawls. At just over 14 hours, this was neither too long nor too short…just right!

4.5 out of 5 stars


24 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

What a tragic premise for a book!! I'm not sure I need to upset myself by reading something so sad at the moment.

Nymeth said...

Oh my, this does sound incredibly sad :\ But it sounds beautiful too.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Okay fine. I keep avoiding this, but if you liked it, you know that means I have to pick it up!

JoAnn said...

This sounds amazing and the Maine setting makes it even more appealing - just not sure I'm up for the heartache right now...

Zibilee said...

Oh, Sandy! What a beautiful review! You captured the flavor and the feel of the book in such a wonderful way. I also felt really strongly about this book, and the ending just about broke my heart. There was a lot of pain throughout the story, but it seemed like things were being blunted as the story moved along. And then the ending, which shattered me. If you can't tell, I loved your review and am so glad that you loved this one as well. It was a very complex and emotional read for me.

heatherlo said...

Coincidentally, I just finished this one on audio too, and also loved it. Your review is fantastic and really captures why exactly this book is so fabulous. I also loved that last part of the book and it felt sort of like a dream sequence to me too. Have you read anything else by Waldman? I read Love and Other Impossible Pursuits last year and thought it was equally fantastic - I definitely would recommend it.

The Bumbles said...

Well I'm glad that the author gives you their final moments - I imagine that makes it easier to bear - wouldn't we all in real life give anything to know such things about lost loved ones.

As for your comment on the audio, I wonder if the accent would bother me? Much like I get so distracted by movies using accents that stick out like a sore thumb to my local ears, I wonder if I could listen to an audio without the same distraction? Maine is a beautiful place - a great setting for most anything. That accent is so tough for an outsider to pin down. Is the reader from the region? Glad she was authentic to your ears :0)

marthalama said...

I finished and reviewed this book when I was not feeling well and gave it a rather lack luster review. Now, a couple of weeks out looking back on it through your review. I realize I liked it much more than I originally thought. Thank you for reminding me of all the beauty I had found in it.

Jen - devourer of books said...

Beautiful review of a beautiful book! I'm glad that the audio was a good experience.

Julie P. said...

Your review is incredible! I loved this book even though it broke my heart. I bet it was very special on audio!

Kathleen said...

I absolutely HAVE to read this one and have had it on my list for a month or two now. You did a fantastic job of reviewing it and making me want to read it even more than I already did!

Alyce said...

You did a great job reviewing this book! I think I must be one of the few who didn't like the ending.

caite said...

I like a nice tearjerker sometimes...and since you think this one is 'masterful'...well, I am sold.
I have read a few reviews of this one, but ours sold me.

That and the town of Red Hook, Maine. ya know me and Maine..

Melody said...

Great review, Sandy! You've captured all the emotions of this book through your writing! I'm not sure if I want to read this; it sounds so sad.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I've had this one on my wish list for just a bit, but am even more excited (probably not the right word to use for such a sad premise) to read it. I'm really intrigued by how the families deal with this loss -- sometimes it's so healing to see how others deal with certain situations. Makes it quite nice to feel a bit more comfortable when there are pings of heartbreak that spring up out of nowhere even so long after a loss.

Beth F said...

Skipping your review because I haven't written mine up yet -- but I see by your rating that we're in the same ball park.

Jenners said...

Oh ... I'm so excited to read this as I won a copy in a giveaway. Sometimes you need a good heartbreaking book like this and it sounds like this will fill the bill nicely. Wonderful review (as always).

Trisha said...

Waldman is on my new authors for the new year list. I have this one and Bad Mother on my wish list. Here comes Christmas....

Stephanie said...

I had never heard of Waldeman before this book but I thought the character development was superb.

Literary Feline said...

I'd seen mention of this book before and wondered about it. It sounds like such a heartbreaking book--and yet your description of it makes it sound beautiful as well. Definitely one to keep an eye out for. Thanks for your great review, Sandy.

Alice Teh said...

I would like to read this. I am not sure why but I have a thing for sad books and I find them beautiful in their own ways. Your review is great.

SuziQoregon said...

this is one of those books that more and more of the bloggers whose opinions I respect most are recommending. You have now added another check mark to that category for this book.

I've got it on my library list. I just need to magically manufacture some reading time so I can get to it sooner rather than later.

Melissa M said...

I've seen lots of reviews of this one posted, but I've never read what the book was actually about. I didn't realize the tragedy in it. Very sad. But I'm also intrigued. I will have to check my library for a copy!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

This is the one and only book I've read on my Nook (so far); yes, the e-reader is gathering dust!

But I digress ...

Fantastic review, Sandy! Waldman's portrayal of the many faces of grief is very real/believable. Like Alyce, I wasn't crazy about the ending, but the rest of the book made up for it.