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February 19, 2024

Red Hook Road: Book Review

By Wendy Robards

Red Hook Road, by Ayelet Waldman.

Maybe, Ruthie thought, now more than ever some kind of statement was required, a refusal to submit to loss, to let it work its mischief on them. And maybe it was that kind of stubbornness in the face of grief -- about which Mr. Kimmelbrod knew more than anyone, the art of which, even more than music, he was virtuoso -- that could, in the end, redeem them all. - from the ARC of Red Hook Road, page 292 -

Set on the coast of Maine, Red Hook Road follows the lives of its characters through four summers after a horrible tragedy. When Becca Copaken (a talented musician whose family summers in Maine) marries John Tetherly (a local boy whose heart lies in boat design and restoring an old wooden sailing vessel), two disparate families are joined. But only an hour after the wedding, both John and Becca lose their lives in a terrible accident, leaving behind parents, siblings, and a wise old grandfather to figure out how to move forward without them.

Ayelet Waldman captures the tension between the summer folks "from away" and the locals who populate the small fishing village of Red Hook, but more importantly, she exposes the raw wound of grief which does not discriminate between socioeconomic and class differences. Waldman's writing is intimate and observant. It would be easy with a book about loss for an author to immerse the reader in sadness, and so I was delighted that Waldman chose to show how time heals grief, that there is still room for joy in the midst of sorrow, and strength is ultimately found in our connection to others.

My favorite character in this book is Ruthie -- Becca's younger sister -- who struggles to find her identity in the shadow of her sister's death. But all the characters ring true ... Mr. Kimmelbrod, the taciturn grandfather whose serious nature belies a sensitive heart; Jane Tetherly, John's matter-of-fact mother who hides her grief with anger; Iris Copaken, Becca's mother whose obsessive organization and need for control nearly destroy her marriage; Daniel Copaken, Becca's father who finds himself longing for his younger days as a boxer in order to escape the sadness of his daughter's death; Matt, John's brother, compelled to restore the boat his brother left behind; and Samantha, a young Korean girl who finds her talent in playing the violin. The characters in this novel are rich, well developed and captivating. Their individual journeys to find meaning in their lives after John and Becca's deaths were haunting and real.

I was surprised how much I liked this book -- a book whose plot revolves around grief and loss, but somehow becomes more about living than about death. Waldman writes effortlessly, capturing place and character with ease. Readers who enjoy family sagas will undoubtedly like this novel.


Four stars out of five.

Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".


Article © Wendy Robards. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-11-01
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