Monday, January 31, 2011

Red Hook Road: A Novel / by Ayelet Waldman

It's the perfect day for a wedding. With the Maine summer sun shining down on a beautiful young couple, it seems a promising start to a new union between two people--John Tetherly and Becca Copaken--and two families who've known each other a while, though not always as intimate friends. The Copakens are New Yorkers who've owned a roomy vacation home in the small town of East Red Hook for over a century. Mother Iris Copaken even insists that since they've summered in East Red Hook every year since 1879 they have just as much right to be considered locals as the year-rounders. Not everyone agrees with this theory though. John's mother Jane Tetherly is the hard-edged manager of a maid service which the Copakens employ. She considers herself a true Mainer and doesn't much care for her oldest son marrying a "from awayer". But she also understands that her oldest son John genuinely loves his new bride and though she prefers not to admit it, that Becca really loves John.
Then just after the wedding the unthinkable happens: the limousine carrying the newlyweds is involved in a fatal accident killing all passengers instantly. Suddenly everything changes between the two families, particularly for mothers Jane and Iris who quickly reacquaint themselves with the social differences separating them. Over the next few years, the women work through their grief and sorrow, experiencing all of the pain, anger and deep-seated resentment which the accident has caused. But with their loss comes the opportunity for new beginnings like the odd compatibility forged between other members of the respective clans. Specifically it's the bond born of mutual bereavement between younger siblings Matt Tetherly and Ruthie Copaken who transform their sadness into a solid friendship and a budding romance. It's also the oddly fascinating rejuvenation of Iris' father Isaac, a forgotten master violinist, who takes on the task of tutoring one of the Tetherley nieces, a dormant music prodigy in her own right. With time all begin to redress the wounds suffered in the midst of such a horrible tragedy.
Mystery author Waldman's follow-up to her fiction debut Love and Other Impossible Pursuits is worthy of the positive reviews of its predecessor and then some. Reminiscent of other New England domestic fiction writers like Anita Shreve, Barbara Delinsky or Anna Quindlen, this is an engaging story in which friction between in-laws is generally a guarantee and more internal family problems are never completely put to rest. And though writing about culture clashes between "summer people" and "the help" is nothing new, it never seems to get old either, especially if the story rings true. In this case it's the unique but believable plot device of a marriage between two opposing families where tragedy leaves everyone at a loss for how to deal with such a catastrophe. In practical and not overly-sensationalized fashion, Waldman gets to the heart of the matter, carefully avoiding any hasty judgments or over-dramatized flare-ups and seeing the tragedy through with uncommon bonds formed between opposing characters in charmingly practical ways. (FIC WALDMAN)

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