Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Magic of Setting Doesn't Carry Over to Plot in New Southern Women's Novel

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Since the excessive heat here in Arizona seems to have zapped any ability I may have had to write a decent plot summary, I'm going to cheat.  Want to know what Safe Within by Jean Reynolds Page is all about?  Here's the back cover copy:  
Elaine and Carson Forsythe have returned to the tree house—Elaine's childhood home, a cabin nestled high in the branches of two oaks beside a North Carolina lake—where forty-nine-year-old Carson has chosen to spend the waning days of his life.  As Elaine prepares for a future without her beloved husband, their solace is interrupted.  Carson's mother, Greta, has set loose a neighbor's herd of alpaca and landed herself in police custody. While Carson, remarkably, sees humor in the situation, Elaine can only question what her obligations are—and will be—to a woman who hasn't spoken to her in more than twenty years.

In the wake of Carson's death, Elaine and their grown son, Mick, are thrust into the maelstrom of Greta, the mother-in-law and grandmother who never accepted either of them.  Just as they are trying to figure out their new roles in the family, Mick uncovers unexpected questions of his own.  A long-ago teenage relationship with a local girl may have left him with more than just memories, and he must get to the bottom of Greta's surprising accusations that he's not Carson's son at all.
Even with only the plot summary to go on, you can tell that Safe Within is one of those novels where the setting is as vividly portrayed as any of the characters.  Page's small, Southern town feels true-to-life, as do her story people.  Not all of them are pleasant to be around—in fact, some of them are downright depressing—but they definitely come alive for the reader.  My problem with the book has more to do with the plot, which seems to meander this way and that, without really going anywhere.  The subplots aren't any better; some feel tacked on (the whole racism thing), others (like the truth about Elaine and Wallace) are just kind of unimpressive.  Overall, Safe Within left me feeling ambivalent and a little disappointed.  I loved the novel's setting and really wanted the rest of the story to match it in originality and magic.  Bummer that it didn't.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of books by Dorothea Benton Frank and Anne Rivers Siddons)

Grade:  C

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for language and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Safe Within from the generous folks at Harper Collins via those at TLC Book Tours.  Thank you!

3 comments:

  1. I can handle a meandering plot line...but only once in a while.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love when the settings are as vividly portrayed as you say it is in this book!

    Thanks for being on the tour!

    ReplyDelete

Comments make me feel special, so go crazy! Just keep it clean and civil. Feel free to speak your mind (I always do), but be aware that I will delete any offensive comments.

P.S.: Don't panic if your comment doesn't show up right away. I have to approve each one before it posts to prevent spam. It's annoying, but it works!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin