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Dale Loves Sophie to Death    by Robb Forman Dew order for
Dale Loves Sophie to Death
by Robb Forman Dew
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2001 (1981)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I was curious about the title Dale Loves Sophie to Death and discovered early in the novel that it comes from graffiti on a railway bridge - a landmark that announces the family's imminent arrival at their rented summer home in Enfield, Ohio. This is Dinah's hometown, where she summers with three small children while her husband, Martin, returns to a solitary existence in New England. The motivations that pull Dinah back there every year are unclear to the reader, and also to Dinah herself, until later in the story.

Robb Forman Dew has an uncanny skill in taking readers under the skin of her main characters. She reveals minutiae of actions and feelings of their everyday life (details normally glossed over) and in doing so creates moments to which we can all relate. There is Dinah's comment to Martin while tidying the house - 'You only understand neatness, and I only care about basic sanitation. You'd think it would work out so that we complemented each other, but instead we never really get the place either neat or clean' or her reflection after they make gentle love together 'Dinah was thinking that sex can be the sweetest, kindest way finally to overcome reticence.' While cooking tomates à la crème Dinah reflects on how differing interpretation of the same events 'were as near as any human could come, probably, to forming his own personality.' Some of those varying perspectives become apparent as family members and old friends look back on shared events from their teens.

Dinah and Martin have a good marriage, despite his almost accidental summer affair with a neighbor's sister. Her parents did not do so well, though they live apart now and seem to be good friends. Dinah, long estranged from her father, reconciles after her son Toby gets close to him. She realizes that she keeps coming back to her childhood home in 'an effort to homogenize her life, to resolve the schizophrenic images of herself that she had in her mind's eye'. This book will make you think hard about your own interpretations of past and present events and relationships, with all the possibilities for misunderstanding amongst friends and family. When Dinah's rather distant father reveals to her 'it's not easy, either, to know that you can't love your children the way they want to be loved. You can only love people however you happen to love them' he is speaking a truth that most of us grow up to understand.

Martin completes the book by musing about a quote from Mies van der Rohe that 'God hides in the details'. The author of Dale Loves Sophie to Death has given us a novel full of details, insightful enough to make us look more closely at all around us.

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