I was super excited when TLC Book Tours contacted me again about doing another book review, this time fiction! Contemporary fiction! Yay!
I was given A Simple Thing by Kathleen McCleary. I’d rehash the plot, but since the publisher paid someone a lot of money to do that for them, I’ll let them do their excellent job.
“When Susannah Delaney discovers her young son is being bullied and her adolescent daughter is spinning out of control, she moves them to remote, rustic Sounder Island to live for a year. A simple island existence—with no computers or electricity and only a one-room schoolhouse—is just what her over scheduled East Coast kids need to learn what’s really important in life. But the move threatens her marriage to the man she’s loved since childhood, and her very sense of self.
For Betty Pavalak, who moved to Sounder to save her own troubled marriage, the island has been a haven for fifty years. But Betty also knows the guilt of living with choices made long ago and actions that cannot be undone. The unlikely friendship between Susannah and Betty ignites a journey of self-discovery for both women and brings them both home to what they love most. A Simple Thing moves beyond friendship, children, and marriages to look deeply into what it means to love and forgive—yourself.”
This was an easy read; I’d even call it a beach read but that would imply I’m the type of person who has time to go to a beach or that there’s even a nice beach nearby, neither of which is true and that makes me sad. So let’s call it a “finish it in a couple of lunch hours” read or a “long car ride” read or “easily picked up in-between feedings and naptime” read. (The last one is especially applicable right now…)
The story weaves the stories of Susannah and Betty while flashing from the past and the present, which made the novel all that more engaging. I found the life of Betty to be the most interesting; Susannah was a bit too histrionic without cause for me to truly like her. Maybe that’s because she’s a worrier and I am too; I had a few moments where I could see myself behaving as she did in order to protect her children. I hate it when a mirror gets held up to your face, don’t you?
This is one of those gem of a books where nothing really HAPPENS, but you get pulled into the lives of the characters so well that you don’t care about that. I won’t give anything away (and honestly, you’ll be able to guess what happens as the story is a tad predictable,) but by the end you come to admire Betty for her strength and cheer on Susannah for finding that same strength in herself. And don’t let me calling this predictable scare you off – predictability can be a comfort when you want a little brain candy. Not every novel has to challenge your way of thinking, sometimes it’s enough to touch your heart a little bit.
One of my favorite parts is the story of Susannah and her husband. They’ve known each other since they were children, but the way Susannah describes how she felt, and still feels, about him is stirringly romantic. The same goes for Betty; her relationship with her husband is simple and typical, but feels layered in a way that keeps it from being trite. However, both women are affected, yet not defined, by their partner. (IMAGINE THAT. *insert more feminist snark here*)
My only quibble is that the novel feels a bit…unfinished. Almost like an editor had gotten a hold of it and chiseled out some really good bits but left the plot intact. It’s like those lovely indie movies that don’t get enough budget to film the whole script. The movie gets made, but often you’re left going, “It feels like there’s something MORE to this than I was given…”
Like Sounder Island itself. One thing I wanted more than anything was for Sounder itself to be more of a character. I love books like Shipping News, where the location is just as much a character as the people are. I was missing that in this book; it’s mentioned why Susannah chose Sounder, but I didn’t quite buy her visceral reaction to such a remote place. It sounds like a fascinating island, with its remote location and limited electricity, but the story is mostly about how the characters react to having to live in Sounder. I wanted to hear more about the island – there are characters who’ve lived there for decades so there had to be tales that could have been told. Or more descriptions of the geography and the layout of the land; this island has such a draw that Betty stayed there despite having every reason to leave and Susannah left her husband behind and took two protesting children to live there. If Sounder speaks to these people so much, why not let it speak to us too?
There other tiny things that made me want more; like why does Betty have a set of twin grandsons but only one has a real hand in the plot? Why aren’t the islands other quirky characters given a bit more face time? Why does Betty’s son Jim seem to have a storyline that just peters out in the end? It’s these little touches that keep A Simple Thing from being a really great book. I’d say it’s good, but it doesn’t stay with you afterwards the way it should.
But give A Simple Thinga try! Kathleen McCleary is a good and very capable author; check out her website, Facebook, and Twitter. Also, Book Club Girl on Air will host Kathleen McCleary to discuss A Simple Thing on Tuesday, August 21 at 7 pm ET. Check it out!
Whatcha think, moppets? Have you read A Simple Thing? Does it sound like your cup of tea?
If you’d like another point of view, or several, check out the other TLC review hosts.
Another big thank you to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to host another review. Check out their website on a regular basis; I’ve gleaned quite a few books from there and they have a little bit of everything! Plus, you get great book reviews without having to rely on Amazon reviewers who either look at the review process as a chance to show off their own rusty literary skills, or don’t understand how the process works and use it to complain about how the used copy they bought was missing pages….