Title: Red Hook Road
Author: Ayelet Waldman
Release Date: July 13, 2010
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Practically the entire town of Red Hook, Maine has come out to celebrate the marriage of Becca Copaken to John Tetherly. Though Becca’s family only summers in Red Hook, they garner respect from the locals because of how far back they can trace their family lineage in the town. John’s mother, a year-round resident of Red Hook, cleans Becca’s family’s house, which is how the two met.
No one expects the tragedy that occurs just a few hours into the event – John and Becca’s limousine crashes into an SUV around a tricky turn and plunges into the water. The happy couple dies just one hour after their wedding. Red Hook Road is the story of the two families, trying to pick up the pieces and move on after their deaths.
I received a pre-release copy of Red Hook Road and it sat on my shelf for months before I actually picked it up. Though I was genuinely interested in the novel, the seemingly depressing subject matter made me hesitate. Therefore, I was very glad when my book club chose it for our September read – it made me read the book, something I’m not sure I’d have done with any urgency on my own. Now that I’ve finished it, I hate that I let my fear of a sad novel put me off from reading this book. It was lyrical and true, and just an amazing read all around.
Red Hook Road is a beautifully written story about a horrible tragedy. Death is almost never expected; even when it seems to be staring a person in the face, it comes as a shock. But no one expects a couple to perish on their wedding day, on the drive from the wedding to the reception. It’s an incredible study in the immediacy of grief, watching the tone of the wedding reception shift from celebratory to mournful as the news is spread. The families so devastated they can’t stand, the peripheral guests unsure of what they should do, the greedy ones leaving with the presents they gifted the couple.
Waldman’s writing envelops the story, cushioning the readers from the most horrible details. It is a comfort during the darker periods of the novel, uplifting during the brighter ones. It is unspeakably beautiful, enough to move a person to tears as she describes the wild grief of each of the family members. Even Jane, John’s mother, the most reserved of them all, is slowly dying underneath her stern facade. Waldman captures all of this emotion wonderfully. Her writing is so gorgeous that it almost hurts to read it.
This is a story about dealing with grief, so clearly it’s not the happiest of novels. The first part of the book is narrated through a numb shock, as no one can quite believe what’s happened. As acceptance sets in, so does the more difficult part of the book. It’s hard to see all these lives unwind and diverge from their chosen paths because of these two deaths. Because they are unsure how to deal with their grief, characters make their lives about the dead, rather than trying to live their lives. It’s frustrating and sad, yet so realistic. Waldman writes such a convincing story, the reader can’t help but be immersed in these characters’ lives, hoping that they find some solace.
Red Hook Road was my first book by Ayelet Waldman, but it won’t be my last. I know it sounds sad, and it definitely is, but don’t make the same mistake as me and choose not to read it because of that. It really is a wonderful read that I highly recommend.