Though I don't read much women's fiction, I did end up really enjoying this book. The two story lines blended together well and enhanced each other in a way that made the story very full bodied and well rounded. Sometimes when a book goes the dual narrative route, I find myself more interested in one section than the other, but surprisingly in this book that wasn't a problem. I found both stories to be entertaining, and because they dealt with such different issues, the scope of the novel was larger and more diffuse.
One thing I have to admit is that I didn't like Laura very much as a main character in the beginning. She seemed very whiny and plaintive at times, and at others she could be remarkably selfish. Of course, there were moments when she could be incredibly loving and altruistic, but for the most part, I had a hard time getting close to her. I didn't understand why she kept losing patience with her husband because he seemed to be just about perfect. I'm not sure if this drama between them was an artificial construct to keep the tension running high in the book or if it was just Laura taking out her stress on an innocent target. Whatever it was, I didn't much like it. I do think Laura had some incredible moments though. She gave and gave to her mother, never shrinking back when her gifts were not accepted, and she was constant in her love for her children, which I admired. I just got a little tired of the "woe is me" attitude she had and felt like she wasted critical time being wounded and sorrowful when she could have been learning how to open herself to the love that other family members, like her husband and sister-in law, wanted to give her.
Though Laura and her mother were very different kinds of women, as I read I began to see a lot of similarities between them. Both of them were strong and independent and felt that they could handle pretty much anything on their own. Both women were stubborn as well, making the same mistakes and butting their heads against the same walls over and over again. I think that although their passions differed, they had a lot of the same temperaments, and felt that they were both a little too independent at times, which made others in their lives feel unnecessary. I think Laura tended to be a little more high strung than her mother, but both let emotion run very high in their lives and let their emotions rule them at times. It was interesting to see how different the women were, while still being the same. I think this is one of the reasons they had so much trouble connecting with one another.
A lot of this book is about the spirit of forgiveness and the need to let go of resentment. It was a constant theme in the book, from the relationship between Helen and Joseph to the later struggles between mother and daughter. I think the book dealt with this nicely. When is it okay to let go and forgive, and when do you stop the recrimination, not only towards others, but towards yourself? This story held many secrets that, once revealed, had the capacity to heal the people who kept them hidden and the people to whom they were revealed. The book spoke about the the road not taken and the dreams left behind. One of the things I found most interesting was the way the characters dealt with their secrets and lost desires. They all were alike in that they kept these things hidden, and buried them so deeply inside themselves that they were almost forgotten, leaving only feelings behind as painful reminders.
I also really liked the sections in the book that dealt with Helen's sewing. Helen specialized in creating curtains and window dressings, and though I have never tried my hand at that particular craft, I thought it was interesting to hear about the interesting creations she was working on. Her main motivation for doing these things was not only to earn money while her husband was away, but to dress up a rather shabby life and to give her husband something special every time he came into town. Though she abandons her sewing after Joseph dies, later sections of the book find her once again picking up her needles to share her gift with a special family member. I loved that I was able to live vicariously through these sections and get lost in the descriptions of fabrics and thread and the creations that came from loving and talented hands.
I think that this would make a great read for those who gravitate towards women's fiction and also for those who like character driven novels. I think this is my first foray into this genre, and although I had some quiet niggles with the main character, I found the book very diverting and well constructed. I think the author did a wonderful job working so many different themes and ideas into her tale and felt that there was a real cohesion between all the aspects of the story. I am glad to have given this book a try and I am looking forward to reading another of the author's books, Life Without Summer.
The wonderful people over at Simon & Schuster have given me the opportunity to host a giveaway for two of Lynne Griffin's books! In the giveaway, I will be giving a copy of both Sea Escape and Life Without Summer to one lucky reader. All you need to do is let me know if you'd like to be included in the drawing and leave a valid e-mail address so I can contact you if you win. You must leave a valid e-mail address to be entered in this giveaway! The winner will be drawn on August 2nd, 2010. Good luck to all entrants!
Lynne Griffin is a nationally recognized expert on family life. She is the author of Life Without Summer and Negotiation Generation: Take Back Your Parental Authority Without Punishment.
As the parenting contributor for Boston’s Fox 25 Morning News, she appears regularly in the segment Family Works.
Lynne teaches in the graduate program of Social Work and Family Studies at Wheelock College, and at Grub Street Writers.
She has written for Parenting Magazine, Scholastic Parent & Child, The Writer Magazine, and the popular blog, Family Life Stories.
She lives outside Boston, Massachusetts with her family.
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This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.