I just finished this last night for my book club this morning. It’s another Oprah Book Club selection and I’m noticing a pattern in all the books she chooses–they are all depressing and tragic. Can she not find a well written book that’s a bit more uplifting? I’m sure I could recommend many for her. Anyway, this was a well written book, with a compelling story teased out over the chapters so that is has quite a sense of mystery to it, with the full story never being fully revealed until the very last page.
Amanda and Mattie are sisters who live near a lake. While Mattie’s husband, Carl, is away during the war, Amanda lives with Mattie and her little girl, Ruth. Before Carl returns home Mattie tragically drowns in the frozen lake, leaving Amanda to raise Ruth. When Carl comes home Amanda has a nervous breakdown and is in a sanatorium for year or so, but when she comes back she is firmly rooted in their lives, never to be parted from Ruth again. The circumstances of Mattie’s death and Amanda’s attachment to Ruth (to the extent of poor Carl’s barely being able to exert himself as a fatherly presence) are the mystery of the story. Over the years as Ruth grows up and away from Amanda, no matter how much Amanda tries to prevent it (teaching a 5 year old to fake seizures so she doesn’t have to go to school?!?!), Amanda becomes, to my mind, crazier and crazier.
There is a lot of love in this story-between sisters, mothers and daughters, aunts and nieces, father and daughter, husband and wife-but there is also betrayal, lies, and manipulation. I found Amanda to be a frankly despicable human being. She hurt and cruelly manipulated those she loved best, all in the name of love. In fact she was selfish (and probably mentally ill.) By the end of the story I was really wishing for something terrible to happen to her. On the other hand, Ruth was a character I admired and liked and thought she fared remarkably well, considering. I was not pleased with the ending for her though, and fear she is doomed to be twined with Amanda forever.
On another note, this is the third book I’ve read whilst pregnant that involved women and babies either dying, being given away, or some other tragic or weird circumstance (the others being My Sister’s Keeper-fabulous book, by the way- and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.) I really must stop because I am finding it difficult to read about these things as I am overcome imagining these things happening to my unborn child!