RED HOOK ROAD by Ayelet Waldman

 

Red-Hook-Road I just read my second Ayelet Waldman novel – Red Hook Road. (The first was Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, which I reviewed here.)

Red Hook Road opens with a wedding on the Maine coast, between Becca Copaken and John Tetherly. John is from a working class, native Maine family, while Becca’s family lives in New York City and spends its summers in Maine. Despite the differences in their backgrounds, Becca and John are deeply in love, and the wedding is a beautiful affair. However, tragedy strikes after the ceremony, when Becca and John die in a car accident en route to their reception.

Red Hook Road, named for the street on which the newlyweds’ limo collided with an SUV, deals with the aftermath of the accident and the years that follow. Waldman explores how Becca’s parents, Iris and Daniel, turn away from each other after the loss of their daughter, while John’s mother Jane’s resentment of her erstwhile in-laws grows with each passing year. Meanwhile, John and Becca’s younger siblings, Matt and Ruthie, turn to each other in their time of grief.

The good: Waldman is a beautiful writer: precise, detailed, and analytical. (Can you tell she is a former lawyer?) She tells a lovely story – full of gestures and inflections and observations – that makes you feel as though you are standing in the room with these characters. The premise of the book is a compelling one – how life can change so drastically in a split second, and how deep the ramifications of those changes can be.

In the end, though, I liked this book but didn’t love it. There are times when it dragged a bit, especially when Waldman gets into the details of violin instruction and shipbuilding (two important themes in the book). I skimmed a few sections because the details got tedious.

I also think that Waldman suffers from “tell, don’t show” syndrome. I’d prefer for the themes to emerge more subtly, rather than to have Waldman tell me over and over. There is a long passage at the end of the book comparing shipbuilding to marriage. I’d like to have come to that conclusion on my own rather than reading it and having it fed to me.  Finally, the end was a little over the top and mostly unnecessary.

I really wanted to love this book – and I did enjoy it a lot – but I can’t say that I feel as passionately about it as I’d hoped.

Hola Senor FTC! This book was provided for me as a review copy from Doubleday, at my request.

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4 Comments

  • sheila
    January 30, 2011 - 7:39 am | Permalink

    Gayle. I couldn’t agree with you more. I read this book just a few weeks ago and I really really wanted to like it as I am such a huge fan of Waldman. I was really looking forward to the townie versus wealthy family dynamic, but never felt like it was explored sufficient or realistically, and I thought some of what happened just silly. That being said, there were passages that I really enjoyed reading. I will definitely try another of hers!
    p.s I notice you are listening to Sag Harbor. I will be very curious to hear your thoughts!

  • January 31, 2011 - 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would. I admired the restraint Waldman used in telling the story. It was a book I liked more and more as it went on. I haven’t read her other novels, but knowing you enjoyed Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, I’ll start there. I also have a copy of Bad Mother I’ve been meaning to read for far too long. I think part of my enjoyment of this novel was happenstance. I picked it up from my pile of ARCs to read in the pool one day, and although I moved inside when it got dark, read the entire novel in one afternoon.

  • February 1, 2011 - 12:02 am | Permalink

    @Sheila – Totally agree with YOU! It just didn’t fulfill its potential. As for Sag Harbor – I am about 25 pages in (on audio). It’s interesting. Not what I expected.
    @Nomadreader – I am impressed that you read this all in one afternoon! I am glad you liked it. You’ll like LAOIP too.

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