Complex, Compelling, Complicated
Diane Chamberlain has done it again.
She’s written a complex, compelling and complicated book filled with characters as real as the ones we meet across the street, at lunch, at the store — and she makes it seem effortless. Her prose is unobtrusive and clean.
Set in Wilmington, the story begins with a suicide that surprises everyone: Noelle, a midwife who embraces life, takes her own. Her dear friends, Emerson and Tara, cannot imagine why, and are determined to discover what drove Noelle to such drastic measures. As Noelle’s story unfolds and secrets are revealed, Emerson’s and Tara’s lives are changed forever.
The reader glimpses Noelle’s mood as she prepares to swallow the pills she has so carefully stored away for the right time. Chamberlain manages to write this scene with compassion, and embodies Noelle, who is deciding to die, with a tremendous love of life:
She sat on the top step of the front porch of her Sunset Park bungalow, leaning against the post, her eyes on the full moon. She would miss all this. This night sky Spanish moss hanging from the live oaks. September air that felt like satin against her skin. She resisted the pull of her bedroom. The pills. Not yet. She had time. She could sit here all night if she wanted. Lifting her arm, she outlined the circle of the moon with her fingertip. Felt her eyes burn. “I love you, world,” she whispered.
The shock of Noelle’s suicide rocks the world of her two best friends, Emerson and Tara. Tara, a recent widow, is struggling to raise her teenage daughter Grace alone. Emerson, married to Ted, also has a daughter, Jenny, who is the same age as Grace. The two girls, like their mothers, are best friends.
As Emerson goes through Noelle’s things, she discovers a lot about her: Noelle kept meticulous notes about every baby she ever helped into the world; Noelle had a little money stashed away; Noelle frequently met with Tara’s deceased husband, Sam, a lawyer. But the thing that spurs Emerson to further exploration of Noelle’s life is a letter buried at the bottom of a box, a letter that was never mailed:
What I have to tell you is difficult to write, but I know it will be far more difficult for you to hear, and I’m so sorry...
From that mysterious letter, Emerson and Tara slowly unravel the string of lies at the heart of the Noelle they thought they knew. The result is a satisfying and entertaining read, a book filled with secrets and regrets, but, more importantly, a book that reveals the healing power of love and forgiveness.
Anne Barnhill’s debut novel, “At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn,” is forthcoming in 2012 from St. Martin’s Press. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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