Saturday, July 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover 352 pgs
Characters: Two families: The Copakens and the Tetherlys
Subject: socio-economic class structure; dealing with grief
Setting: small town coastal Maine
Source: ARC from the publisher Doubleday Books
Challenge: ARCs completed
I live in a small town in coastal Maine so I had high expectations of this book and its setting. On the whole, it did not disappoint. Ayelet Waldman has done her homework and presents us with a deeper than surface glimpse into the relationships, economic reality and culture of such a life.
The story begins rather slowly. In fact, the only part of the story I found tedious was the beginning. Essentially it boils down to a wedding - the bridal party stays behind to have pictures taken. The wedding guests go off to the Grange Hall for the reception. But the bride and groom never get to the reception because the limo is involved in a fatal accident. This isn't a spoiler - it's the beginning of the story.
The story isn't about the bride and groom at all, but rather the story of their families and how this wedding, this romance, and these deaths impact the families--both inside each family, and towards the other family. It is a story of relationships and people. In addition to the native vs. "from away" conflict, there are religious issues (the bride's family is Jewish), there are issues of aging (the bride's grandfather- a world class violinist - is now suffering from Parkinson's), there is marital discord - the bride's parents have drifted apart due to the mother's overbearing need to control everyone and everything and the father's lack of backbone and refusal to stand up to her.
There are issues of class- the groom's mother cleans house for the bride's family, but doesn't feel the bride's family is deserving of being seen as 'from here' since they live in New York. There are grieving siblings who are left to fend for themselves emotionally, and who are struggling to find their own lives while trying to live up to their brother's and sister's dreams.
The best part of the story surrounds the relationship that develops between Samantha (the flower girl) , a nine year old Cambodian orphan who was adopted by the groom's aunt, and Mr. Kimmelbrod, the grandfather, who discovers Samantha's incredible musical talent and takes her under his wing to mentor and encourage her.
Over four summers, we watch as a marriage falls apart, a romance blooms, a musical career blossoms, and the mothers-in-law come to a grudging respect for each others' differences. The ending was almost a made-in-hollywood scene designed to tie up the loose ends and make it come out 'happily ever after.' It could have been more realistic, leaving the characters with some room to grow instead of just being able to walk away from problems. Still in all, it was a great read, and a well done look at generational, class, and religious differences that can fester in a small town atmosphere.
My thanks to Doubleday for making the review copy available.