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23rd September
written by Steph

It hooked me all right...

Oh, Red Hook Road. I just can’t quit you. Ever since I heard about your publication, I have been wanting to read you… so it wouldn’t be entirely fair to say you’re a book that crept up on me, except that’s kind of exactly what you did. Your premise – a newlywed couple are killed in a car wreck on the way from their wedding to the reception and the way the fallout affects their respective families – was one that was so blindingly tragic that I was drawn to you like a moth to a flame. Surely this would be a book that would burn me, make me feel the deepest pangs of grief, and yet I could not pull away. I ran into your embrace wholeheartedly, prepared to have my heart bruised and beaten. Imagine my surprise then when the first 150 pages or so of you left me feeling rather, well, cold. I felt like you so desperately wanted to connect with me, tentatively reaching out your hand to grasp mine, only for me to shrug you off like an unwanted date making awkward, fumbling advances. Where I wanted grand romance, I was getting highschool-level attempts at courtship. I watched your characters, the Tetherlys and the Copakens, struggle against and sink within the mire of their grief, and yet rather than feeling like I was being pulled into a whirlpool of sadness along with them, I felt like I was watching this all through a window of thick glass. There was a wall between us that I couldn't surmount, and this, more than anything else in your pages, saddened me. But I stuck with you, Red Hook Road, and I’m glad that I did, because you were one of those novels that was persistent in its seduction of its reader. As I progressed through your pages, you slowly bound me in your subtle tendrils, like a dozing fly within a spider’s web, and before I realized it, I was hooked. In many ways, the story of grief you tell is not one that is all that surprising or new – perhaps it is unflinchingly honest, and yet perhaps some of its universality makes it feel predictable and as though we have heard it before. From symbolic storms that break things down only so that they can be rebuilt (or forever lost), to marriages in disarray, to love found in the most unlikely of places (even if they have been staring us in the face for so long… and might be seen as an attempt to act as understudies for a romance now eternally off-stage), many of these things felt obvious and yet they never felt like lazy storytelling. You felt cinematic in the best possible way, and slowly but surely a pulse began to beat steadily within your pages, spirits and souls gently exhaling and inhabiting me as I read. You were a slow boil, building unhurriedly but resolutely, so that by the end the people whose grief has been so all-encompassing truly mean something to us, the readers. These people whose grief we can initially understand but not truly experience because we do not know the Becca and John they have loved, eventually through their eyes we learn to feel the weight and enormity of what they have lost. Perhaps my favorite part of you was your coda, which was absolutely brilliant, sad and wonderful. It was really the perfect ending, giving me the emotional devastation I had been hoping for early on, but had not yet earned. That ending was an example of excellent construction, lovely and tragic in a way no other conclusion could have been. You were a novel that began lukewarm but climaxed triumphantly such that for days after closing you, my mind kept crawling back to your characters, wondering what might happen to them next, unable to process that their story was now complete. I wanted to return to your embrace, wanted to keep living alongside your characters, was sad that they were now slumbering once more in the depths of fiction. For as surely as I do, they all did breathe while I read from you. Thank you for letting me experience something I hope I never have to face in my own life with the vividness as if I had. Rating: 4 out of 5


  1. Kathleen

    Wow, brilliant review I can’t wait to read a book that builds to such a satisfying end and one that makes me keep going back and thinking about the characters is a powerful read.

  2. 09/23/2010

    This is a wonderful review, especially because I have picked up this book at least 3 times now, read a few pages, and put it back on the pile. Now I know to keep going! I’m not too excited by the “tragic” part, but on the other hand, I’ve got plenty of kleenex….

  3. 09/23/2010

    Awesome review, Steph! I agree that this book took awhile to grow on me as well, but you expressed it so much better than I ever could. I think the ending was brilliant as well, and I totally wasn’t expecting it at all. There really was a lot to this book emotionally and thought that Waldman did an amazing job with it. It was subdued, but complex in my opinion.

  4. 09/23/2010

    I would love to read the book after reading your review. I too do not like a surfeit of tragic and sad stuff but the book sounds so good that I should try to find it.

  5. 09/24/2010

    @ Kathleen: Yes, it’s been quite a while since a book has lingered with me so long after reading, but this one definitely did. I borrowed it from the library, but I’ll probably be buying myself a copy since I can’t stop thinking about it! That’s one great way to measure the quality of a book!
    @ rhapsody: I didn’t need any kleenex, but admittedly I very rarely cry with books… but it is sad but in a very good, cathartic way that is honest and true. I think I knew to expect a slower start having read zibilee’s review, so I didn’t let that put me off… I hope you are able to stick with it!
    @ zibilee: I think we had really similar reactions to this novel, and I was always thinking of your review as I wrote – I didn’t want to cover the exact same turf!
    @ Mystica: I think one of the good things about this book is that the tragedy is all up front and at the very beginning so you are not blindsided by it and can prepare for what’s to come. It’s a really powerful and thoughtful read so I hope you do get to give it a try.
    @ Alex: I’m not sure if Waldman purposefully wrote the book as a slow boil, but maybe that makes sense… after a huge, unexpected loss people are often numb for a while as everything takes a while to sink in… Also, I ultimately think it worked better to have a quieter more subdued beginning and feel the full force of the loss by the novel’s end. Far more powerful that way.
    @ Meghan: I didn’t dislike the book at any point, I think I was just initially a little underwhelmed, expecting this huge explosion of emotion that I personally didn’t experience until later… But certainly better late than never! 😀
    @ Stephanie: Yes, I remember your review of this one – it certainly made me all the more eager to pick it up. I’m glad it didn’t disappoint!

  6. 09/24/2010

    Steph, I agree with the above, great review, a pleasure to read.

    Do you think the author made the book like that on purpose, just to build the intensity?

  7. 09/24/2010

    Wonderful review, Steph – I really enjoyed this book myself. I liked it from the very first, but I’m glad you came around to my point of view by the end. =)

  8. 09/24/2010

    I could never write as well spoken a sreview as you always seem to do! I found the book lagging in bits, but overall really enjoyed it.

  9. 09/24/2010

    Steph, WOW! What a brilliant review! You had me at, “…so it wouldn’t be entirely fair to say you’re a book that crept up on me, except that’s kind of exactly what you did”! I love those types of books! And after what you’ve written, I am so looking forward to reading Red Hook Road – Thanks!

  10. 09/24/2010

    Oh your review has made me want to read this! I read one of Waldman’s novels a few years ago and I thought it was pretty good. She’s married to Michael Chabon I think.

  11. 09/26/2010

    @ Nadia: Yes, it’s always nice when a book surprises you (in a good way!)… I hope you enjoy this one!
    @ Nicola: Yes, Waldman is married to Michael Chabon (who I’ve never read… but I will!)… I think you’d really enjoy this one, so I do hope you get a chance to do so.

  12. 09/30/2010

    Ooof, that may be the most depressing premise I have ever heard. Yet why do these kinds of stories sound appealing? I think it’s so we can experience some of that gut-wrenching emotion without REALLY experiencing it. So sadistic of us!

  13. 10/01/2010

    @ Kari: I know! So depressing, and yet it excited me! I think there is something really cathartic about reading an incredibly sad book without having to go through the horrific scenarios in real life… I guess that’s also why sad movies can be such a hit too (Titanic, anyone?).

  14. […] Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman – You will recall that I read this book last year and found that it stuck to me more than I expected. One of those books that I kept thinking about […]

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