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Red Hook Road    by Ayelet Waldman order for
Red Hook Road
by Ayelet Waldman
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Ayelet Waldman, author of the excellent novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (whose grieving heroine evolves to see herself and her motivations more honestly) and of a touching parenting memoir, Bad Mother, now brings readers another novel that explores all the dimensions of grief, Red Hook Road.

Waldman shows how a previously superficial relationship between two very different families, the Tetherlys and the Copakens, evolves in the aftermath of tragedy, which becomes a catalyst for change for all concerned. Events develop through four summers in the harborside village of Red Hook on the Down East coast of Maine.

It begins with a wedding, a joyous occasion that turns to disaster even before the cake is cut. The bride and groom, John Tetherly and Becca Copaken, die instantly, and their shocked families are left to suffer and to wonder how they will ever adjust to this new reality. As Becca's grandfather tells her sister, 'there is no logic to loss. There is no guiding hand allotting tragedy in bearable increments. Good things happen and terrible things happen and we must all continue.'

It affects them all in different ways. Becca's parents, Iris and Daniel, their relationship one of 'mutual contradiction and complement', slowly drift apart, Daniel losing himself in aspects of his past that he had put aside for Iris's sake. Energetic Iris rises to a new challenge, that of supporting the talent of the wedding's flower girl, Samantha, a young musical prodigy.

John's mother Jane, who runs a cleaning business, loved Becca but resents the Copakens, especially Iris, and that resentment grows. Becca's sister Ruthie, a Fulbright scholar, drops out of college, as does John's brother Matt. They fall in love but also trap themselves by attempting to follow John and Becca's dream of going into the luxury charter business in the Caribbean.

Music, craftsmanship and family feeling are interweaved throughout this compelling novel. Waldman's light and deft touch for details, and sense of irony, bring her characters to life, with all their strengths, flaws and vulnerabilities. The immensely satisfying conclusion - a tear-jerker, though not a sentimental one - completes a full cycle of life and death, grief and moving on. Ayelet Waldman writes beautifully, and no more so than in Red Hook Road.

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