People are forever asking me what it was like to grow up in a commune, and it’s a question that has no easy answer. Northern New Mexico was Commune Central in those days, and each of the twenty-odd settlements had its own vision, its own quirky dynamics, its own culture. And, of course, no two children ever grow up in the same family, so if you asked both me and my brother, Hart, what it was like, you’d get two completely different perspectives. I think he was pretty happy. – from The Laws of Harmony, page 2 –
Judith Ryan Hendricks’ fourth novel, The Laws of Harmony, opens in New Mexico and is narrated by Sunny Cooper – a 32 year old woman whose life is suddenly wrenched out from under her. When detectives arrive at Sunny’s door to inform her that her fiance Michael has been killed in a fiery car crash, Sunny’s grief is quickly replaced by confusion and then anger when she discovers Michael was keeping secrets from her.
There was an aura about him – daring, adventurous, carefree, almost joyful – but with a darkness just under the surface. Like you could scratch him with a fingernail and find something you might not really want to see. – from The Laws of Harmony, page 68 –
The tragedy opens a floodgate of memories from Sunny’s childhood growing up in a commune – the drugs, sex and rock n’ roll; her close relationship with a brother who has since disappeared from her life; the sister she lost to a freak accident; and the strained connection she still has with her mother. On an impulse, Sunny sells nearly all her possessions and quits her job, heading west to a new future in the tiny town of Harmony on San Miguel Island south of Vancouver Island off the Washington coast.
I’ve entered a different world, and my heart suddenly lifts. It seems I’ve finally slipped the gravitational pull of New Mexico, and the past is dropping away behind me like a spent booster rocket. – from The Laws of Harmony, page 146 –
The Laws of Harmony is a novel about personal growth, the impact of the past on our future, and the delicate connections we make with other people. Sunny’s journey is not just a physical one from New Mexico to Harmony. Her memories do not simply stop the moment she leaves the desert and arrives on the fog enshrouded island of San Miguel. Sunny’s journey from despair to hope and her gradual understanding that she cannot walk through life alone is what drives the narrative…and it is a compelling and satisfying story.
Hendricks is a capable and talented writer whose prose is filled with warmth, humor and a deep understanding of what it means to be human. Half way through the novel, I found myself immersed in Sunny’s world, comforted by the rich descriptions of food, and not wanting the novel to end. Although there is a bit of a mystery in the book, it is not the mystery which kept me turning the pages. Hendricks’ ability to create character is her strength, and it is the characters who engaged me.
The best novels are those which leave the reader with a more acute awareness of what motivates a character – and a better understanding of how a character’s life might parallel our own. The Laws of Harmony does both those things. The writing is accessible and honest. Judith Ryan Hendricks has written a novel which women especially will love. If you are looking for a comfortable and gratifying summer read, look no further.
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