Women’s Fiction

“Pictures of You” by Caroline Leavitt

Book-Cover-Pictures-of-You-LG

 

We all have certain expectations of our spouses. In the best scenarios, we picture loving each other robustly, tenderly and forever. In those pictures we raise marvelous children, and journey through life’s adventures with our best friends. ‘When we are not so busy’ or ‘when the children are grown’ we’ll have time to sort out all the nagging relationship issues. Unless the sand in the hourglass runs out before we get that chance.

 

In “Pictures of You,” two women’s lives intersect in a tragic auto accident. April dies when Isabelle swerves into her on an unfamiliar road in the fog. Isabelle, a photographer, is haunted by what she has done, even though she is cleared of any wrongdoing. She can’t forgive herself, so she doesn’t really blame anyone else in the community for ostracizing her; even welcomes being left alone. The fact of her husband’s infidelity has taken a back seat to her guilt.

 

The little boy, Sam, who survived the accident, has lost his mother and a grieving husband, Charlie, doesn’t understand why his wife, April, would have been on that road with their son at that time of day. Secrets are revealed about April that astound her husband. He no longer knows the woman with whom he shared his life. Charlie is helpless to comfort his son, ineffective in dealing with so many ‘after death’ issues. How many of us would be any better at it?

 

What follows is the tragic tale of three people aching for love; raw emotions and devastating truths revealed as they find a way to heal. No plot spoiler here, but photography plays an important role in the storyline.

 

Sam is so well written, with always age appropriate vocabulary, that the reader completely understands when he feels responsible for his mother’s death. Sam mistakes Isabelle for an angel and with his nine-year-old logic, mixes reality with his desperate wish to see his mother again. Leavitt creates a world in which the reader wants to hold this little boy, take away his heartache.

 

In an effective subplot, Isabelle suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which Leavitt depicts with insightful clarity. Isabelle shakes uncontrollably, sweats and feels nauseous when she sets foot in a car after the accident and for months afterward, must walk or ride a bike to go anywhere. Having been in a terrible car accident myself many years ago, I sympathized with the realistically intense stress the woman was going through, cringed at the nightmares she experienced. Leavitt herself, has an acute fear of being in cars, so brings considerable, painful  authenticity to the reading experience.

 

We tend to dismiss the importance of the small choices we make in life – not kissing a loved one goodbye or taking the time to listen when we’re running behind schedule – until it’s too late to get a do-over. We look back after a disaster and think: if only I had been a better dad, a better son, a better wife. If only I had stayed, or been there, or did what she/he asked. Everything would have been different. If only.

 

Beautifully written, exquisitely shared.

 

Caroline Leavitt’s latest novel, “Is This Tomorrow?” was published in May, 2013. Read the review here.

For more information about Ms. Leavitt and her books, visit www.carolineleavitt.com

 

 

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“After the Rising” by Orna Ross

Book Cover - After the Rising

 

This lovingly written novel deals with the underlying subject of The Easter Uprising, a turnaround time in Irish politics. Ireland had been under English rule since 1169, an uneasy union at best, and at its worst, a blood-soaked thorn in the English side. Many in Ireland resented having to work in virtual servitude for English Lords who robbed them of their land or sent resources back to England. That resentment exploded in Dublin on a sunny Easter Sunday in 1916.

 

“After the Rising” begins in 1995, with Jo’s notification of her mother’s death. Jo travels to the village of Mucknamore, Ireland, all the way from San Francisco in the USA, filled with guilt and grief and anger. Jo hasn’t been back in twenty years. She hears the Will and at first, refuses to follow its directive: create a family history from the notes and letters left behind in a blue suitcase. Jo doesn't want to be in Mucknamore, let alone write about the very people that drove her crazy. But, she needs to exorcise her demons and the story begins in earnest, drawing us in as Jo tries to break free.

 

Three generations of women from Jo’s family tell their stories in the letters. Stories of the war between the Irish and the English, the formation of the IRA as well as other Irish  factions, the role of strong women in the fighting. This is a profoundly personal political book, bringing to life an aspect of 'the troubles' accepted, but not usually discussed: the divisions of families, lovers, neighbors, and neighborhoods. Best friends take sides and become enemies, each passionate about their view, each well meaning. Disagreements about the ‘English problem’ divide a nation within and blood is shed for decades.

 

Ross has woven a mature tale of forbidden love lost and remembered in sometimes explicit detail, of women who yearned to have a larger role in the fight for Irish freedom, of three generations frustrated by the fact that they had so few options in a male-dominated Irish culture. Each of the women faces a challenge unique to her generation and has to make a heart-rending decision.

 

Wexford County, Ireland, is beautifully described: a mix of new apartment blocks, old bungalows and cemeteries “with patchworks of crosses and slabs of stone staring over a low wall at the sea.” Ross’s word pictures happily reminded me of a road trip I had taken through that area a number of years ago.

 

“After the Rising” is remarkable in the spot-on glimpse into how we regard our own parents and grandparents. (Could my gray-haired great-grandmother who could barely take care of herself, ever have been a freedom fighter who carried grenades under her coat?) As Jo reads through the contents of the blue suitcase, she begins to understand her mother’s decisions, but grieves anew at the love left unspoken, at the memories never shared. She is staggered by the unbearable family mysteries revealed for the first time.

 

I downloaded an early version of “After the Fall,” initially self-published only in ebook form. My copy had formatting glitches, but Ms. Ross has re-issued the ebook and has promised that the problems have been corrected. A paperback version is now available as well. A sequel, “Before the Fall,” which continues the saga of Jo and her family, has been published in both ebook and paperback form.

 

Orna Ross, an Irish author, is the founder of ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors. For more information about Orna Ross, her work in self-publishing, and her novels, visit www.ornaross.com

 

 

 

 

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