Length: 253 pages
Publication: October 14th, 2014 – She Writes Press
Source: Spark Point Studio (publicist)
What it’s about:
Freddie was raised on faith. It’s in her blood. Yet rather than seeking solace from the Almighty when she loses her husband of many years, she enters a state of quiet contemplation until her daughter, and then her sister, each come home with a host of problems of their own, and her solitude is brought to an end. As Freddie helps her daughter and sister deal with their troubles, her own painful past a wretched childhood at the hands of an unbalanced, pious mother begins to occupy her thoughts more than ever, as does Anna, the grandmother she’s always wished she’d known better. Freddie feels that she and Anna are connected, not just through blood but through the raising of difficult daughters, and it’s a kinship that makes her wonder what unseen forces have shaped her life. With all that to hand, a new family crisis rears its head and it forces Freddie to confront the questions she’s asked so many times: What does it mean to believe in God? And does God even care?
What I thought:
Last year I read and reviewed Parrish’s book of short stories, Our Love Could Light the World. As I enjoyed it, I was happy to be offered the chance to read this her most recent work. The novel begins with Freddie, a middle-aged woman who has recently lost her husband and finds herself alone. Gradually her life begins to expand once more as she welcomes first a stranger and then her prodigal daughter and grandson into her home.
Over the course of the novel, the focus shifts from Freddie’s story to that of her grandmother, Anna, who escaped religious persecution in Turkey to start a new life in the U.S. Anna’s story was the more compelling one to me as it contained elements of historical fiction and showed character growth as Anna made choices which took her farther and farther from her early beginnings as an immigrant. Anna’s daughter, Lorraine, has an early religious conversion and leaves home to become a sort of itinerant preacher and missionary. Her story is revealed as it involves her daughters, Freddie and her sister Holly, who are treated to a harsh and neglectful upbringing at the hands of their evangelical mother.
Although male characters have their roles to play in the novel, this is essentially a story about women–the four generations of one family and, peripherally, the women with whom their lives intersect. It is also about religion in that each of the women struggle with the effect that religion has had on their lives and how their faith (or lack thereof) makes them who they are.
While these themes are obvious and present throughout the novel, they failed to make a real impression on me. Something about the portrayal of religion in the novel rang hollow. Maybe it was the author’s intention to convey a sense of emptiness at the heart of it all, but it left me feeling dissatisfied as a reader and unable to make a real connection to any of the characters. I didn’t sense that the women’s religious struggles were anything more than everyday angst; there was no real fire or conviction behind it.
In short, this novel left me cold. Parrish’s writing is very competent but fails to arouse any strong feelings in the reader. Although this is a relatively short novel, the lack of action and emotional growth in the characters left me both wanting it to be finished and wanting something more.
Thanks to Spark Pointe Studio for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.