May 9, 2011 · 6:09 am
Real Life & Liars: A Novel by Kristina Riggle (William Morrow Paperbacks; $13.99; 327 pages)
It seems to me that growing older means a growing collection of paths not taken. More and more “what-ifs” left behind.
With the onset of Mirabelle (Mira) Zielinski’s thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and the anticipation of reuniting with her family, Mira has a great deal to be proud of: a loving husband, three healthy children and three loving grandchildren. But the reality of life and disappointments have settled in as Mira contemplates the past sixty years.
Katya, Mira’s oldest daughter, appears to have the perfect life. A wealthy husband, a spotless home, a thriving business and three children who have everything they have ever wanted. Yet Mira speculates that her daughter’s desire to always want to fit in and have the best of everything may have resulted in a mundane marriage to a husband addicted to his job and three spoiled, disrespectful children.
Ivan, Mira’s talented son, writes songs and works in a school inspiring children. However, he has never been recognized as an artist and his abysmal taste in women has left him lonely and desolate.
Irina, the baby, is beautiful and spontaneous. Yet when she comes for the weekend announcing that she is pregnant and introduces her husband, who is twice her age, Mira suspects she has hit her all-time low.
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Mira clings to her hippie past as she rebels against conforming and endures her loving, yet distracted, husband who is engaged in writing a major novel. Her ideals of life and self-worth are challenged with the recent tragedy she is refusing to deal with.
As the family reunites for a long celebratory weekend, each will have to face their own fears and realities as secrets are revealed and truths uncovered. They will be challenged to redefine their understanding of one another and their own destinies. Mira may experience the greatest surprise as she is forced to contemplate how blessed she truly is and how happiness and peace are found in even the most surprising of circumstances.
Kristina Riggle presents her story with sincere family dynamics that anyone with siblings or children can relate to. Her characters are well-developed and so clearly defined that you will become attached to their story as if you’re part of the family. Riggle writes with the ease and grace of a veteran writer. It is hard to believe that this was her debut novel. I look forward to reading more from Kristina Riggle!
A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Funny, sad and utterly believable.” Elizabeth Letts, author of Family Planning.
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September 26, 2010 · 1:43 pm
The Language of Trees by Ilie Ruby (Avon; $14.99; 339 pages)
“I was thinking about what a friend had said, I was hoping it was a lie…” Neil Young
“I could always heal the birds,” he admits… Echo takes his hand, “Joseph says that birds are the only creatures that have blind faith. This is why they are able to fly.”
Ilie Ruby has crafted a magically moving novel composed of disparate elements: a tragic childhood death, a kidnapped woman, American Indian (Seneca) ghosts and spirits, wolves that interact with humans, unrequited love, and a parent’s illness. The book is also replete with dysfunctional families who, sadly, may represent normality in American life. Dysfunctional families are fueled by shame and secrets, and the secrets are kept until they must be divulged in order to save lives.
Two of the key characters in The Language of Trees are Grant Shongo and Echo O’Connell. Grant is a half-blooded Seneca with the power to cure sick and wounded birds and animals. He is also a person who cannot cure himself. Then there’s Echo, who feels that she is lost in her life in spite of the fact that she’s true to herself. Echo is the one person in the story who is free, except that she’s not aware of it. And, except for Echo, the book is populated with characters that are haunted by the past – literally and figuratively – as they search for peace and redemption.
“Happiness is just as hard to get used to as anything else.”
The Language of Trees is written in a cinematic style. It begins slowly and it takes the reader some time to absorb all of the many characters and to understand the personal issues affecting them all. There’s also more than a touch of mysticism and magic to the story. There are unique and spiritual events that will seem almost commonplace to those with even a touch of Native American blood. (The author demonstrates a great deal of respect for Indian folklore and beliefs.)
What is initially calm builds to a highly dramatic and satisfying conclusion. Coming to the final pages, I was reminded of the style of Pat Conroy in The Prince of Tides, which found this reader both excited and sad that the journey was about to end. As with Conroy’s novels, Ruby leaves us with a life’s lesson, which is that one must let go of the demons of the past in order to “not (be) afraid of the future anymore.” Once the nightmares of the past have been left behind, we are free to soar like birds.
At its conclusion, this novel has the power to transport the reader to a better place.
“Well, I dreamed I saw the silver space ships flying in the yellow haze of the sun.” (N. Young)
The Language of Trees is nothing less than masterful and transformational. Let’s hope that we will not have to wait too long for Ms. Ruby’s next novel. Highly recommended.
A review copy was received from the publisher.
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