Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Place for Us

Title:  A Place for Us
Author:  Harriet Evans
Publication Information:  Gallery Books. 2015. 448 pages.
ISBN:  147678678X / 978-1476786780

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The day Martha Winter decided to tear apart her family began like any other day."

Favorite Quote:  "A life without each other was too far away to think about; they had conquered everything when they were young, and so they were careless about the future. It held no fear for them."

The place for the Winter family is Winterfold, their home in Somerset. It is the beloved home of Martha and David Winters and the place where they raised their family. They found the place when they "had nothing much, except each other." Now, forty five years later, they still live there, and Martha "had forgotten nothing, nothing that had happened, before or afterward. The secrets every family acquires, some small - little indiscretions, tiny jokes. Some big, too big for her to bear anymore."

The beautiful watercolor-like cover of the book and this strong beginning draws me into the book, ready for a multi-generational family saga with all the messiness that life brings.

More than a saga, however, A Place for Us is a slow paced portrait of a family. It starts as the matriarch Martha Winter is turning eighty. It travels to the past before the family was a family and before even Martha and David were a couple. The surface is a picture of a beautiful family home and a marriage that has lasted decades. Beneath the surface are the secrets and the choices that show how tenuous a seemingly solid surface can be.

The book changes voices chapter to chapter. Just browsing through the table of contents reveals the following names: David, Karen, Florence, Joe, Cat, Lucy, Daisy, and Martha. The points of view reflect not only the immediate Winters family - David, Martha and their children - but also spouses and grandchildren. Each of their chapters move the main story forward but also include flashbacks to earlier times such as World War II and also address the myriad of issues facing each character aside from their role in this family. Not one seems to be leading a calm, ordinary life; some of the could be an entire book on their own.

The book also skips through multiple time periods and not in a chronological fashion. Flipping through the chapters, the time periods in some of the chapter headings are August 2012, March 1969, August 1973, November 2012, January 1983, August 2008, June 1968, March 2013, June 1947, May 2013, July 2013, August 2013, and August 1948.

This structure is especially challenging at the beginning. The first set of chapters introduce the members of the Winter family and those who surround them. The opening sentence declares that secrets are to come but gives no indication as to what that secret might be. The initial chapters are full of details of people and places - beautifully depicted details but a lot of them. I find myself trying to remember it all in case it is important later in the book. I find myself a little frustrated because I can't. No sense of importance is given to certain people or details to draw the reader's attention. As such, it becomes difficult to get absorbed in the story or develop an affinity for any one character or voice. Without that interest in at least one of the characters, the book becomes difficult to engage in as it moves forward.

This book is not bad; it's just too much of a good thing and would benefit from the idea that sometimes less is more.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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