Red Hook Road – Book Review

Maybe, Ruthie thought, now more than ever some kind of statement was required, a refusal to submit to loss, to let it work its mischief on them. And maybe it was that kind of stubbornness in the face of grief – about which Mr. Kimmelbrod knew more than anyone, the art of which, even more than music, he was virtuoso – that could, in the end, redeem them all. – from the ARC of Red Hook Road, page 292 –

Set on the coast of Maine, Red Hook Road follows the lives of its characters through four summers after a horrible tragedy. When Becca Copaken (a talented musician whose family summers in Maine) marries John Tetherly (a local boy whose heart lies in boat design and restoring an old wooden sailing vessel), two disparate families are joined. But only an hour after the wedding, both John and Becca lose their lives in a terrible accident, leaving behind parents, siblings, and a wise old grandfather to figure out how to move forward without them.

Ayelet Waldman captures the tension between the summer folks “from away” and the locals who populate the small fishing village of Red Hook, but more importantly, she exposes the raw wound of grief which does not discriminate between socioeconomic and class differences. Waldman’s writing is intimate and observant. It would be easy with a book about loss for an author to immerse the reader in sadness, and so I was delighted that Waldman chose to show how time heals grief, that there is still room for joy in the midst of sorrow, and strength is ultimately found in our connection to others.

My favorite character in this book is Ruthie – Becca’s younger sister – who struggles to find her identity in the shadow of her sister’s death. But, all the characters ring true…Mr. Kimmelbrod, the taciturn grandfather whose serious nature belies a sensitive heart; Jane Tetherly, John’s matter-of-fact mother who hides her grief with anger; Iris Copaken, Becca’s mother whose obsessive organization and need for control nearly destroys her marriage; Daniel Copaken, Becca’s father who finds himself longing for his younger days as a boxer in order to escape the sadness of his daughter’s death; Matt, John’s brother, compelled to restore the boat his brother left behind; and Samantha, a young Korean girl who finds her talent in playing the violin. The characters in this novel are rich, well developed and captivating. Their individual journeys to find meaning in their lives after John and Becca’s deaths were haunting and real.

I was surprised how much I liked this book – a book whose plot revolves around grief and loss, but somehow becomes more about living than about death. Waldman writes effortlessly, capturing place and character with ease. Readers who enjoy family sagas will undoubtedly like this novel.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review on my blog.

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  1. Oh, my! This sounds incredible and yet also so heart-wrenching. I haven’t heard of this book, but will now include it on my wish list. I’d really like to see how this story develops.

    • Anna on October 25, 2010 at 09:02

    I love family sagas, so I’m adding this to my to-read list.

  2. I loved this book, even though it left me feeling sad. I loved Ruthie as well as Matt.

  3. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this one too. It was definitely a novel that got better for me as it went along. I’m glad to see you enjoy it too!

    • Staci on October 25, 2010 at 14:38

    I’m hoping to get to this one soon as I have a copy too. Glad that you enjoyed it!

    • zibilee on October 26, 2010 at 07:19

    I liked this one a lot too, and thought a lot about the relationship between the two mothers. It was a book that was focused on a sad subject, but that wasn’t totally depressing. I really liked your review and am glad to hear that you liked it, though I am wondering about your reactions to that final chapter.

  4. Hmmm – several of my most trusted book blogger friends have now recommended this book. It’s already on my TBR list, but I’ll have to think about nudging it up a notch or two.

  5. I’ve been tempted to read this, though my other experiences with Ayelet Waldman’s work have left me a little bewildered. I think she can write a beautiful sentence, though, and I should put this on my list.

    I think of you often.

  6. I finished this book with the same feeling as you – I was surprised at how much I liked it, since it’s about grief. Great review!

    • Alyce on October 28, 2010 at 15:08

    I liked the book too, but thought the author took the easy way out with part of the ending. My favorite character was the violin prodigy, but as an amateur musician I tend to gravitate toward musical story lines.

  7. Lovely review, Wendy. And judging by all the positive remarks here, this sounds like something I might like to read, too. I’m always curious about books centered on grief…

    Hope you are well.

  8. Great review, must read this one.

  9. I also thought highly of this title. For some reason, I liked Jane best. Maybe because I’m drawn to salt-of-the earth types!

    • Wendy on November 14, 2010 at 08:55

    Coffee/BookChick: It is a wonderful book on several levels (and yes, also heartbreaking at times).

    Anna: If you like family sagas, you should enjoy this one.

    Kathy: Good to see you also enjoyed this book.

    Carrie: I agree, the more I read, the more it hooked me.

    Staci: I’ll look forward to catching your review.

    Zibilee: I also enjoyed the relationship between the mothers (they were so different, and yet their grief was so similar). I didn’t love the last chapter – it was a little odd to me; and I’m not sure it was necessary to the plot.

    Suzi: I think you would like the book, based on what you seem to enjoy.

    • Wendy on November 14, 2010 at 08:57

    Beth: I haven’t read any of her other books, so I can’t make a comparison. Thank you for your good thoughts…

    Swapna: Glad we agree!

    Alyce: I wasn’t crazy about the ending, but the majority of the book I thought was handled well. I also enjoyed the violin prodigy…she was captivating!

    Les: I think you would appreciate this book…

    Mary Ann: Thanks!

    Julie: I didn’t feel like I knew Jane all that well – but I understand what you mean about “salt of the earth!”

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