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Review: Red Hook Road, Ayelet Waldman

Tragedy strikes one summer day in Maine.  What is meant to be a happy day for two families instead turns into a day of mourning and despair, with consequences set to echo across their entire lives.  The Copaken family, despite living in New York City most of the year, consider themselves native Maine residents, while the Tetherlys, significantly poorer, do in fact live there all year.  Due to two deaths, the families find themselves linked closer than ever as they all struggle to deal with their own grief and suffering.

A few people have expressed some distaste for the way this book’s prologue was written, but I found that I quite liked it.  It’s written from the perspective of an outsider looking in with plenty of detail about the day.  No one is named; it could be just any wedding, which is exactly what I liked about it.  I thought it perfectly captured a typical wedding day, with the perfect photos and elaborate ceremony neatly masking the real conflicts between people and the difficulties of human relationships.  Everyone feels something about a wedding and it’s not always pure joy.

Of course, the book drastically changes once the accident happens, and instead of joy, both families are left with incredible sorrow.  The book is really about how individual people deal with it, how it can pull people together and push them apart, sometimes both at once.  It’s poignant because the Tetherlys and the Copakens have always had something of a relationship, if only because Jane Tetherly cleans the Copakens’ house year-round.  Later on, of course, the two women are meant to be united by the relationship between their children, but are left in a curious midway point.  They have things in common, but they’re also complete opposites, incapable of truly understanding anything about one another except the shared pain of mothers who have lost their children much too early.

I liked how many of the characters strove to achieve things for the people that they’d lost, learning eventually that they should really be following their own lives rather than the blueprint they had planned.  They have to think more deeply about their assumptions when faced with the fragility of human existence; their desperation to maintain that existence is heartbreaking.

Overall I found there was a lot to admire in Red Hook Road.  The relationships are pitch perfect to the real experience of grieving families.  Each character is carefully delineated and even when I didn’t like them or agree with them, I could understand how they worked.  Since the book is set over the course of four summers, it’s easy to see the way that time changes perception and does manage to place scars over fresh wounds.  I was glad that I could follow the families through their lives and closed the book satisfied with the way it wrapped up.  Red Hook Road is a wonderful choice for those who enjoy literary fiction, realistic depictions of grief, and family relationships.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free for review.

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