Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Canterbury Sisters

Title:  The Canterbury Sisters
Author:  Kim Wright
Publication Information:  Gallery Books. 2015. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1501100769 / 978-1501100765

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

Opening Sentence:  "You know hat old Chinese curse that goes 'May you live in interesting times'?"

Favorite Quote:  "I haven't had time to add nuance to my fiction ... I'm sure I will be able to brushstroke all this in later, for it is what we humans do. We lie. Especially to ourselves. An event doesn't even have to be over before we begin telling ourselves stories about it. Softening the edges, eliminating unnecessary characters and minor details, trimming our own unwieldy interior responses into something tidy and acceptable. And thus our personal myths are born. We know what should have happened, so we convince ourselves that it must have happened, just that way."

Everyone has a story. Everyone. Sometimes what is needed is someone to listen. Sometimes what is needed is the process of telling our story so that we can rediscover it for ourselves. Telling our stories can bring us to our own reality.

Che Milan, only daughter of her hippie parents, has just lost her mother. Her long-term relationship is at an end. She is at a cross-roads and, on a whim, decides to honor her mother's last wishes by bringing her ashes to Canterbury. However, just traveling to Canterbury is not enough; she decides walking the sixty mile pilgrim trail is the true way to fulfill her mother's wishes.

She joins a Broads Abroad tour, with a guide and other American women making the same pilgrimage. In the tradition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the guide Tess suggests that each woman tell a story as they walk. "Chaucer's pilgrims ... challenged each other to see who could best articulate the nature of true love." So, the premise for the book is set. Whether real or not, each woman's story is theirs, and each has a message for the reader.

Each woman in on this trip for her own reasons - seeking forgiveness, healing, closure. The reasons are as diverse as the women themselves. On the surface, Che is there for her mother's dying wish, but is her journey really about her mother? Jean is there with her daughter Becca; the tension between them is apparent. Claire and Silvia are best friends, but even best friends sometimes don't know everything. Angelique is a public personality, but who is the person behind the persona? Steffi is their fitness monitor, but why? Valerie is the odd one, but what secret is she holding?

The women's stories touch on relationships, secrets, marriage, life, philosophy, and more, leaving a lot to reflect upon:

  • "What holds it [marriage] together? Doesn't every couple get to a point ... and you realize it would be even more trouble to turn back than it is to go forward?"
  • "No woman sees her own myth."
  • "A man who must keep his true identity hidden is the basis of so many of the superhero myths."
  • "Religion ... is nothing more than the study of other people's experiences with God. But true spirituality is the opportunity to have your own experience with God."
  • "In order to have the miracle of transformation, something must be loved before it is really lovable."

The book centers on Che, but hers is the least told story. We learn about her mother and their challenging relationship. We learn about her ex Ned. However, we learn very little about Che herself. The other women seems to develop into fuller characters through the telling of their story and through the commentary on their story. These stories and this trip seems to be what Che needs, but the books leaves you wondering what came before and what comes after for her.

The cover and title of this book are somewhat deceptive. These elements suggest a "fluff" book, a simple beach read. The content brings an unexpected depth. The book is still quick and easy to read, perfect for the beach, but leaves you with things to ponder. At the end of the day, this book speaks to the need we all have to be heard. Maybe, in some of these women, you will see a piece of your own story.

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

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