Tag Archives: engaging novel

Strangers on a Train

One Moment, One Morning: A Novel by Sarah Rayner (St. Martin’s Griffin, $14.99, 407 pages)

Sometimes, one moment is all it takes to change a life forever.

“A sudden death like that cuts right across the priorities and sensitivities of the living: one minute Karen was drinking coffee and engrossed in conversation with her husband; the next she was witnessing his last moments.”

Sarah Rayner has written a tremendously engaging novel about three women who are drawn together by an unforeseen tragedy.   The women are on the 7:44 a.m. commuter train into London when the husband of one of them suddenly collapses and dies of a heart attack.   Death happens every day, but this one brings the three together – joined by one sad moment, one morning.

“…as she opens her eyes wide to put on mascara, she is overwhelmed by an urge to cry.   It takes her aback; until now she has been fine,or fineish, operating on automatic pilot.”

If an expected death has the capacity to leave us stunned, then how much more so is it true of an unexpected one?   This is the territory that Rayner explores in her character study of three different personalities.   One woman’s been a contented wife and mother, another’s a counselor of troubled young people who’s busy hiding her personal identity, and the third’s a seemingly sharp women who wonders what people would think if they knew what her boyfriend “is capable of when he’s drunk.”   She supposes, “They’d be horrified, surely.”

Rayner’s story flows so smoothly that it’s easy to forget that this is a novel; it flows the way the best-edited films do on-screen.   She not only writes about common people in a natural way, she also presents the sort of revelations that happen to drop into our consciousness now and then:  “Some people who seem warm and friendly on first impression, turn out to be disappointedly superficial, whereas the aloof ones…  emerge as affectionate and loyal.”

This novel covers the lives of three women during one week, a week that will change everything for them in ways both small and large.   One Moment, One Morning is a book to take along with you on a vacation trip, when you can savor its warm, forgiving sense of humanness without being rushed.   It reminds us of something essential – that out of death comes a reaffirmation of life.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  

“Oh, what a novel!   It will make you laugh and cry, it will make you want to call your dear ones to tell them how much you love them, it will make you buy it for all your friends…  Anna, Lou and Karen will feel like they are your soul sisters.”   Tatianna de Rosnay, author of A Secret Kept and Sarah’s Key

“You’ll want to inhale it in one breath.”   Easy Living

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God Bless the Child

Chosen: A Novel by Chandra Hoffman (Harper; $14.99; 304 pages)

“…an engaging and engrossing novel…  counterbalanced by a few significant negatives.”

If you had asked me a few weeks or months ago if I’d be interested in reading a novel about adoptions I suppose I would have replied in the negative.   However, debut author Chandra Hoffman’s novel Chosen has the benefit of being set in Portland, Oregon which tipped the scales in favor of placing it on my to-be-read list.   It is, all in all, an engaging and engrossing novel; however, the pluses are counterbalanced by a few significant negatives.

This is primarily the story of Chloe Pinter, the director of Portland’s Chosen Child domestic adoption program.   Although Chosen Child is a fictional program (charging prospective adoption parents tens of thousands of dollars in fees), Hoffman worked as an orphanage relief worker in Eastern Europe, and so she knows of what she writes here.   Chloe is a young, ambitious woman engaged to a restless young daredevil who makes no money, and who is content to delay their marriage as long as possible.   As we meet her, Chloe has convinced herself – perhaps falsely – that she loves nothing more than combining otherwise abandoned children with couples for whom adoption is a last chance at parenthood.

All those adoptions where she believed she was creating a family, playing the puppeteer, chosing the right parents for this baby, or the perfect baby for the best couple.

The interest and tension in this story builds as Chloe must deal with flawed human beings, birth parents who decide to give up a child and then change their minds, and prospective adoptive parents who feel like their lives will be over if the planned adoption does not go through.   All of the parties involved express their frustrations to Chloe, who soon realizes that she – like her boyfriend – would rather be in Hawaii, or anywhere else where she would not have to deal with other people’s problems.

One of the unfortunate issues with this read is that Hoffman populates the story with a few too many characters for the reader to follow.   Unless you take notes as you’re reading, you may become confused as to who is who, especially as the characters include not only adoptive and birth parents, but also a couple that considered adoption before having their own child through natural means.

A more significant issue arises when Hoffman is compared (as on the back of the book cover) to writer Chris Bohjalian.   I attempted to read Bohjalian’s latest novel, The Night Strangers, but had to give up in frustration.   Bohjalian writes well but tends to insert sex scenes that seem to come from off of the stage – without context or introduction – and that are ultimately distracting.   They do nothing to advance the story being told.   Hoffman does the same here; all of the sex-related scenes could have been edited out without doing any harm to the tale.   And like Bohjalian, Hoffman writes comfortably about prosperous people – in this case, Volvo station wagon driving couples living in Portland Heights – but fails to be convincing when she writes about the gritty folks who live on the wrong side of town.   Part of this may be due to the locale she selected, as Chloe admits that while there are tougher parts of Portland, there are no truly dangerous sections in the greater city area.

To restate this, the harsh and adult content which is a key part of Chosen does not seem to come naturally to Hoffman.   Tough language and rough situations sometimes seem jarringly out-of-place in this story and require a suspension of belief that may be beyond the capacity of some readers.   As an example, when Chloe is threatened by some rough characters, she never has the street smarts to alert the local police, which would seem unlikely in a protagonist as seemingly intelligent as Chloe Pinter.

It is so much easier when, after the parents have signed, everyone simply retreats back to their corners, disappears.   The adoptive parents into the all consuming babyland, the birth parents drifting on, carrying their grief with them like battered travel trunks.

To Hoffman’s credit, she crafts a very satisfying conclusion to this tale, one in which we find that the bad actors are not quite as bad as they seem.   The ending may redeem any flaws that precede it for a majority of readers.   Personally, I view Hoffman as a new author with great potential who would benefit from developing a writing style that discourages comparisons with Chris Bohjalian or Jodi Picoult.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “…(An) unflinching and suspense-filled account of the pleasures and perils of domestic adoption.”   Los Angeles Times

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