Saturday, March 19, 2011

Winter Garden / by Kristin Hannah

Grown-up daughters Nina and Meredith Witson might have had their differences in the past, but when a sudden heart attack leads there father to a slow death and their mother into a grief-stricken mania, they're forced to work together to see things through. Nina, the eldest, is a globetrotting photojournalist whose hardly in one place long enough to forge an address is suddenly at odds to reconnect with her struggling mother. Meredith, who's never really left the nest, is the one who must try and impose some resolution to the situation while trying to keep from resenting her flightly sister. All their lives, both girls have tried to please their mother to no avail. A Russian immigrant whose coldness has always seemed to alienate everyone but the girls' father, Anya and her daughters have a hard time getting along without him until a strange revelation in the form of an old country fable significantly improves things.

Kristin Hannah is a good writer who's penned some solid novels in recent years but this isn't one of her best. While all three women are complex in their own ways with family relationships and each's personal difficulties are practical and easy to relate to, there's a sense that the situation is a bit contrived. The tool of the Russian folk tale, the oral recitation of which by Anya is the deathbed wish of the girls' father, seems somewhat overly sentimental, especially since the story in question isn't particularly exceptional in any revelatory way. Readers will like the dynamic between the two sisters, both the episodes from their childhood and there heated arguments over their mother's welfare at present, and the figure of Anya (not a very believable character) becomes more likeable as time passes. Overall the story's not a bad one. It's just some of the details surrounding the characters and their motivations are a little sketchy. (FIC HANNAH)

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