It’s been a busy, lit.filled week, just the way I like it! I am currently wrapping up Doerr’s masterful All the Light We Cannot See and know I will miss the characters once I’m done. I was also sent an early release e-copy of The Blackbird Singularity by Matt Wilven from Legend Press, which sounds absolutely riveting, and did a bit of thrift store treasure hunting, turning up some great toddler reads, but only finding two books for my taste- Larkin’s Devil in the White City and Franzen’s Freedom, both of which I’ve already read and own copies of. Perhaps, I’ll fair better next time.
Now, to the matter at hand.
Let me compose myself with some shallow breathing exercises before I begin. . . Okay. I can do this. I find it mildly amusing that, looking back, when presented with this book club selection, I thought to myself, “Dear Lord, why?! I can’t stomach another Hallmark movie original!” (We had just finished Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, which I will complain about at a later date, and I was in the mood for a nice Victorian saga, not what appeared from the looks of it to be a book written for the sole purpose of becoming a feel-good, family film.) I could not have possibly been more off-base.
Our club met at the Museum of Fine Art in St. Pete recently to dialogue on the book and lunch (verb). 4 out of 5 of us loved this piece! (and I think the one hold out may have been influenced by our near unanimous dismissal of The Nightingale.)
I was won over from the novel’s start by our protagonist of sorts, Tom Sherbourne, though one can argue there are two others who trade off for the title, and his misanthropic tendencies. He’s not an anti-hero per se, just a guilt-ridden soldier running from his post-war demons. Driven by a desire to get the heck away from people and be engulfed by nature, he signs up for one of the most remote lighthouse postings in all of his native Australia. Despite his efforts to be alone, he soon finds himself enticed by the what ifs of possible domestic bliss when he meets Isabel Graysmark, a young headstrong girl looking for adventure.
The crux of the novel, and this is not a spoiler alert by any means, is that he and his young bride (yeah, she wears him down) find themselves in a quandary when one night, a rowboat containing a baby wrapped in a woman’s sweater, along with a dead man, drifts ashore. The newlyweds find themselves at odds with what to do: report the body and baby to the powers that be or speak not a word and keep the baby as their own . (Keeping it may seem like quite the leap, but I’ve left out quite a few key details so as not to spoil the build up.) Both Tom and Isabel pose original, convincing arguments as to what should be done, citing practical, logistic, religious, and ethical reasons as to why they believe their proposed course of action is the correct one. As a student and teacher of rhetoric, I found this fascinating, loving a good argument and counter-argument. Ultimately, a decision is made, by one of the pair and the other more than a little unwillingly goes along with it. The remainder of the novel details the consequences, both beautiful and hopeful, as well as heartbreaking and tragic, that result from it.
Stedman really got me with this one. I bawled, like out loud sobbed, at more than one point in this book, and I can’t blame it on characters being killed off (because Stedman is better than that), hormones, or anything except for the depth of feeling that exists between parent and child. The novel repeatedly forces the reader to simultaneously recognize and question familial ties, ownership, nature and nurture, and what is “right”.
Though as mentioned above, I did a fair deal of crying and was emotionally wrought throughout, I absolutely loved this work! The characters were relatable, imperfect. The plot was complex and emotional, but not cheap and manipulative by any means. Rather than feeling that I was supposed to think or feel something, I felt Stedman was entertaining a dialogue, one in which I was free to make my own judgments. I also absolutely loved the gorgeous prose and stylistic quirks woven throughout the work, such as the use of present tense in the first paragraph of each new scene and subsequent shift to past as the action unfolds. Stedman is quite gifted and I can’t wait to read anything and everything else she turns out!
I haven’t been this affected by a book in quite some time, and I’m fresh off reading several war novels, a tragic romance, and a kidnapping mystery. I cannot wait to see the film when it hits theaters this September but am thoroughly prepared to be disappointed since, admittedly, I am an elitist snob. “Sigh.” It’s hard having such distinguished taste.
Next up for review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr