REVIEW: WOMAN LAST SEEN IN HER THIRTIES, BY CAMILLE PAGAN

 

At fifty-three, Maggie Harris has a good marriage and two mostly happy children. Perpetually anxious, she’s also accumulated a list of semi-reasonable fears: falling air conditioners, the IRS, identity theft, skydiving, and airbag recalls. But never once did Maggie worry that her husband of nearly thirty years would leave her.

On the day Adam walks out the door, everything that makes Maggie secure goes with him. Only then does she realize that while she’s been busy caring for everyone else, she’s become invisible to the world—and to herself.

Maggie cautiously begins to rebuild her life with a trip to Rome, a new career, and even a rebound romance. But when a fresh crisis strikes and an uncertain future looms, she must decide: How much will she risk to remain the woman she’s just become?

My Thoughts: From the beginning of Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties, I felt connected to Maggie. Not because the events in her life were similar to mine. Her life was quite different from mine, but there was one common theme: that feeling of invisibility that somehow descends on a woman after a certain age. Especially if she has devoted her life to taking care of others. That feeling can be a common thread in the lives of wives and mothers.

To me, however, it seemed surprising that Maggie had not even thought of the possibility that her husband might leave her. The clues were there: his unavailability, the way he didn’t really listen, and how there was something missing. But with the passage of time, connections change, and it would be easy to chalk it all up to getting older.

What happens to a woman after an unexpected separation? Does she sink into a depression? Does she start drinking too much? Does she begin to probe into all of her life choices and connections? Maggie did all of those things…and then more. Slowly she begins to feel like herself again. Like the woman she hadn’t seen since her thirties.

But when something unexpected happens…will she continue on this course, or will she flail about, trying to decide if she needs to rethink her chosen path?

When I started this novel, I expected something light and predictable, but happily, there were many emotional issues to explore. By the end, I was deeply invested in what might happen for Maggie next. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE, BY TAYARI JONES

 

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward–with hope and pain–into the future.

 

My Thoughts: In alternating voices, An American Marriage takes the reader along on a perilous journey, one fraught with injustice, separation, and pain.

Roy’s incarceration aroused my anger, as I could imagine a situation like this, one that is grossly unfair and which changes lives forever.

The story is told through letters and through the voices of Roy, Celestial, and Andre. Beautifully written, it unfolded slowly, making the five years seem interminable, but also very real.

What happens to these characters might seem predictable, as events such as these leave permanent marks on the soul and the body.

Could Roy and Celestial pick up the lives that were ripped from them? Would the years that had separated them reveal too much harm to be repaired? Would a tumultuous and passionate confrontation help them to reconnect with the lives they had left behind?

Even as I could see where the story would lead, I kept hoping for some kind of healing that would feel like justice had finally been done…but sometimes the only healing to be found is the kind that allows for new beginnings. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE LAKE SEASON, BY HANNAH MCKINNON

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As the older, responsible sister, Iris Standish has had a good run. A lovely home in suburban Boston, Massachusetts, three healthy children, and a part-time career as a literary agent. Yes, her oldest, Sadie, is now a teen and pretty sulky and occasionally rude, but the younger two are still lovely.Suddenly, Iris’s husband Paul tells her that he wants a separation. And in a flash, her world begins to unravel. She forgets things, her house becomes a mess around her, and her children are looking at her strangely.

Her sister Leah’s postcard with the cryptic message “Please come” couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

Off she goes to the family home in Hampstead, New Hampshire…her children are at camp and she wants to get away from Paul’s disapproving, critical presence.

But home is not what she expected, and Leah is glowing, announcing her upcoming wedding preparations as the reason she needs her sister. While Iris is feeling unneeded at her own home, she is feeling even more like an outsider here as Leah, of the irresponsible past and the mood swings, overshadows her and makes her feel like a sore thumb. And then draws her needlessly into the wedding preparations, while she flits off to do whatever she desires.

Then Iris sees an old high school friend, Cooper Woods, the handsome guy she never had, and he asks her to help him with the barn restoration he is doing at her parents’ place. She feels needed again. But then Leah inserts herself once more, as if she must take up all the air in the room. In spite of it all, something begins to develop between Iris and Cooper. Can it continue? Will she finally move on?

“The Lake Season” grabbed hold of me and kept me turning pages, feeling a wide range of emotions, from enjoying the beautiful settings to annoyance and frustration with Leah’s behavior. Sibling rivalry takes a dramatic turn, and before long, Iris will discover the well-kept family secrets about Leah.

In the middle of all that unfolds around her, Iris begins to find herself again. Who she once was, and who she will become. A delightful read that earned 4.5 stars.