Book Review: Red Hook Road – Ayelet Waldman [TSS]

Title: Red Hook Road
Author: Ayelet Waldman
ISBN: 9780385517867
Pages: 352
Release Date: July 13, 2010
Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

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.

Review:

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.

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Comments

  1. Heh, “sounds good, but might be a bit too depressing for me” was exactly my reaction when I read the plot summary. So glad that it is much more than that!

  2. Heh, “sounds good, but might be a bit too depressing for me” was exactly my reaction when I read the plot summary. So glad that it is much more than that!

  3. I was initially hesitant as well, but everyone has said that the beauty of the writing overshadows the bleak plot, so I ordered it on audio and just loaded it on the iPod. I look forward to listening.

  4. I was initially hesitant as well, but everyone has said that the beauty of the writing overshadows the bleak plot, so I ordered it on audio and just loaded it on the iPod. I look forward to listening.

  5. I liked this book a lot too. The subject matter was definitely depressing but there was still a theme of hope towards the end.

  6. I liked this book a lot too. The subject matter was definitely depressing but there was still a theme of hope towards the end.

  7. This book did make me feel sad, but I loved it! It was very emotional and thought provoking.

  8. This book did make me feel sad, but I loved it! It was very emotional and thought provoking.

  9. Karoliina says:

    I’m so happy you liked this. I first read about it in the summer, when I was in the U.S. It sounded great and I thought about buying a copy to take home with me. In a book shop I, however, started to hesitate for the same reasons you listed, and I never bought it.

    Afterwards I’ve read a couple of good reviews that have made me reconsider, and now that I know YOU liked it, I will definitely purchase a copy.

    This is the first time I leave a comment here, but your blog has quickly become my favourite American book blog, as I like your style and we share a very similar taste in books.

    Thank you for blogging, and take care,

    Karoliina from Finland

  10. Karoliina says:

    I’m so happy you liked this. I first read about it in the summer, when I was in the U.S. It sounded great and I thought about buying a copy to take home with me. In a book shop I, however, started to hesitate for the same reasons you listed, and I never bought it.

    Afterwards I’ve read a couple of good reviews that have made me reconsider, and now that I know YOU liked it, I will definitely purchase a copy.

    This is the first time I leave a comment here, but your blog has quickly become my favourite American book blog, as I like your style and we share a very similar taste in books.

    Thank you for blogging, and take care,

    Karoliina from Finland

  11. Thank you for this post. I too do not much care for reading really sad stories so I am glad you are saying it from another perspective.

  12. Thank you for this post. I too do not much care for reading really sad stories so I am glad you are saying it from another perspective.

  13. I’ve heard wonderful things about this book, so I really have to get my hands on a copy!

  14. I’ve heard wonderful things about this book, so I really have to get my hands on a copy!

  15. I won a copy of this but have yet to read it. Part of the reason is that is does sound like such a sad book that I have to be in the mood for it.

    And if you want to try another book by Waldman that is very different, I’d recommend her book of essays on motherhood called “Bad Mother.” It was really interesting.

  16. I won a copy of this but have yet to read it. Part of the reason is that is does sound like such a sad book that I have to be in the mood for it.

    And if you want to try another book by Waldman that is very different, I’d recommend her book of essays on motherhood called “Bad Mother.” It was really interesting.

  17. What a beautiful review! I loved this book as well and was really struck by the relationship between the two mothers. I am so glad that you loved it as well, and have to agree that the bleakness of the story was not overwhelmingly oppressive. Great book and great review on it!

  18. What a beautiful review! I loved this book as well and was really struck by the relationship between the two mothers. I am so glad that you loved it as well, and have to agree that the bleakness of the story was not overwhelmingly oppressive. Great book and great review on it!

  19. I was initially afraid of the depressing nature too (especially as a newlywed, I think it hit too close to home), but I read it this summer and loved it. I, too, look forward to reading more Waldman!

  20. I was initially afraid of the depressing nature too (especially as a newlywed, I think it hit too close to home), but I read it this summer and loved it. I, too, look forward to reading more Waldman!

  21. I’m about 30 pages from finishing this one, and I agree with your review. The writing is really good…and I think it gives depth to the grief (and moving through grief). I like how all the characters are dealt with as individuals…they all deal differently with the loss.

  22. I’m about 30 pages from finishing this one, and I agree with your review. The writing is really good…and I think it gives depth to the grief (and moving through grief). I like how all the characters are dealt with as individuals…they all deal differently with the loss.

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