Desert Isle Keeper
I confess – I initially put off reading Prospect Street, Emilie Richards’ hardcover debut novel. It’s a rather long book, a little intimidating looking, and sometimes reviewing longer books can be a chore, especially if they don’t hold your interest. It turned out, that was not something I should have worried about. From the first chapter, the story grabbed me and kept me turning the pages. Prospect Street was a touching, absorbing, riveting book, and I felt privileged to read it.
Faith Bronson’s happy, prosperous life goes up in smoke one evening when she discovers her husband making love to another man. David Bronson is a conservative Christian and a lobbyist who works for Promise the Children, a family-values oriented organization. Unfortunately for Faith and David, she is not the only one who discovers him with his lover. The news media does as well, and they pound the story into the ground until David is catapulted from the closet. Suddenly, David has no job, Faith has no marriage, and neither one of them has any money. They also have two messed up kids.
Faith’s refuge turns out to be a row house on Prospect Street that has been in her mother’s family for four, now five, generations. She can’t abide the idea of living with her rigid, demanding parents, so when her mother offers her the house, she is overjoyed at the idea of living in Georgetown, despite the fact that the house is horribly dilapidated. Faith’s son, Alex, is happy with the move, but her daughter, Remy, makes her disapproval heard loud and long. Remy also has major issues with her father and chooses not to see him at all. Instead Faith’s ever-perfect daughter becomes the rebellious teenager from Hell. Faith has her hands full juggling all the disasters.
But while she is renovating her house, Faith makes two important discoveries. The first is that the house itself is endlessly fascinating. It is her family history, a history she’s not known much about until now. It also contains some answers to the question of her parents’ marriage. Almost forty years ago Faith’s older sister, Hope, was abducted from the house as a newborn, and this tragedy has cast a long shadow over the entire family. Her other discovery is that she has an intriguing neighbor in Pavel Quinn, another Georgetown renovator. He is obviously attracted to Faith. Can she learn to trust another man with her heart?
Faith is a wonderful character. She is perhaps a bit staid and predictable at first, but her trials seem to bring out the best in her. She’s hard working, creative, intelligent, and, despite her diminished self-confidence, she manages to be quite assertive when she has to be. The best parts of the book are when she’s sticking it to David and refusing to be blamed for his mistakes. She’s also pretty good with Remy, who grows more and more sullen and uncooperative over time.
Prospect Street is women’s fiction in its truest form. The story is primarily Faith’s, but all of her relationships are explored. We get into the heads of her mother, her daughter, her husband, and her new love interest. All of them have things to resolve with Faith before the story can have a true happy ending. The use of so many points of view can muddle a story, but Richards carefully keeps the whole thing on track by focusing on how all of these characters interact with Faith. Other things, such as David’s new relationship, or her mother’s rocky marriage, do not take up excessive page space.
All of the characters go through a similar character arc as they learn to live honestly by their own standards and try to forgive themselves and others when they fail. This is a profoundly empathetic and compassionate book, and other than the message of forgiveness, Richards does not use her book platform to preach. She shows all the ways that Faith and David’s situation can be devastating to a family and lets all of her characters feel their natural emotions. There is no pro-gay or anti-gay message. David, for all of his betrayal and cowardice, is a ultimatly a sympathetic character. These are simply real people with real problems muddling through as best they can.
Richards’ exploration of the Christian church’s conflict with homosexuality is well written. David spent years trying to convince himself and his children that homosexuality was a sin, and now he must face his own beliefs and convictions as well as the consequences of his preaching. Richards doesn’t waste time vilifying religious people, though, and may I say how much I appreciated this? So often Christians are portrayed as narrow-minded, fanatical, bigoted idiots, and Richards does not stereotype this way.
The mystery of the house was intriguing, and Richards reveals the clues to the mystery of Hope’s kidnapping slowly, a bit at a time, to hold the interest of the reader. The flashbacks to Faith’s mother’s life in the early years of her marriage are well done and reinforce the book’s theme and message. Even the parts about the house’s restoration are interesting. It’s such a nice metaphor for the restoration of Faith’s life. As the house is stripped bare and lovingly restored to highlight the character of what’s beneath, so is Faith. She and the house go through the same process.
The book has only a few flaws, one of which was Remy’s story. Her constant tirades against her mother were realistic but also tiresome. And her own little drama seemed unnecessary to the story overall.
The book’s ending, too, was a trifle neat. After 400+ pages of gut-wrenching angst, Faith’s family’s problems are resolved a little too tidily. Missing was a satisfying scene in which David breaks down and begs forgiveness for ruining Faith’s life. He does apologize repeatedly, but he never grovels, and he never seems to quite get that he’s completely responsible for her misery. I felt torn emotionally because I didn’t want Faith to forgive him sans grovel, and yet I appreciated David’s regret and sorrow. A good grovel would have gone a long way towards mitigating all of the conflicting emotions Richards so deftly introduced, but if Faith was more understanding and forgiving than I might be myself, I suppose that’s a good thing.
Prospect Street is a gem of a book – well written, compassionate, with an important, but not too blatant, message. I highly recommend it. My only other experience with Richards was her wonderful The Trouble with Joe, another very compassionate, very realistic story about a couple experiencing infertility. I’ve got a number of Richards’ books in the TBR pile, however, and I’m going to dig them up right now.