The Cradle, by Patrick Somerville.
And holding her hands there, as the minister spoke, he realized that love was making him into far more than he ever could have been on his own. He could have sailed around the earth in a hot-air balloon or been a scientist inside a laboratory solving cancer and still those things would have been nothing compared to what she needed him to be, compared to the vessel she was turning him into. - from The Cradle, page 110 -
Matthew and Marissa Bishop are expecting their first baby, and Marissa has decided she must have the old cradle she was once rocked in and which disappeared with her mother six years before. Matthew reluctantly agrees to locate Marissa's mother and retrieve the cradle ... but he has no idea where his search will take him. As Matthew travels first from one small town to the other on his quest, he begins to uncover the secrets of his wife's family which stir memories of his own childhood he believes he had long ago put to rest. Set in the midwest, The Cradle is a novel about loss, belonging, love, and the tenuous threads that bind us to each other.
The Cradle is actually two parallel stories: that of Matthew and Marissa, and that of an older couple Renee and Bill who are seeing their nineteen-year-old son off to war in Iraq. Told from these two perspectives, the novel jumps back and forth in time and alludes to connections between the couples. It is not until close to the end that Somerville weaves together the disparate narratives and leaves the reader with a satisfying conclusion.
I was pleasantly surprised by Somerville's debut novel. My initial reaction is that this would be a "light" read, a bit of romance, more chick lit than anything deeper. I could not have been more wrong. Somerville has a firm grasp of what makes a literary novel throb with life -- strong and conflicted characters, internal struggle, and themes which delve deeply into what make us human. I found myself drawn to Matthew, a character who has been damaged and yet elevates himself through the simple act of caring about others.
The Cradle is full of hope and answers the questions: What brings us happiness? What completes us? It is not the material goods we acquire or think we need, rather it is our connection to others which brings us joy. I was deeply moved by this simple, yet compelling novel. I hope that Somerville has many more such stories to share with us.
Four and a half stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".