Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Kate Morton, THE DISTANT HOURS
I was a wreck reading this book. I got halfway through and had to flip to the ending to find the conclusion of the Blythe sisters' story. No small feat, as this book shifts among Edie's story (1992) and the Blythe sisters' (1940-41) and even Meredith's (Edie's mom). But as I got close to the end of the book, and understood more about what I'd read when I jumped forward, I couldn't bring myself to reread the ending. (This makes me sound a wee bit over-invested, I know.) One of the things I loved about this book was how steeped in literature it is--and it feels quite intentional that Edie, an avid "readie," daughter of a woman who once longed to be a writer, tells the story (in first-person) in a way that calls to mind elements of King Lear and Great Expectations; the three Blythe sisters could be the three weird sisters from Macbeth ... or Lear's daughters ... there are elements of the oldest daughter Percy that felt like ruthless Goneril or Regan; central to the novel is the (fictional) best-seller about the Mud Man, ostensibly written by the father of the Blythe sisters but rooted in true horrifying events. The writing is at times a bit overwrought, but mostly it's exquisite, even in the briefest descriptions: "That short hairpin smile." "... a set of tall iron gates, once grand but listing now at broken angles. Leaning, one towards the other, as if to share a weighty burden." "[He] scraped against the shallow floor of his own limited experience." Toward the end, it seemed there was one turn of the screw after another--and it began to feel like almost too much heartbreak for even this long, expansive novel--though the ending, with the last-minute reveal of Juniper's act of kindness and Edie's reconciliation with her mother, offers a shred of redemption.