In The Carousel, author J.A. Stone introduces readers to four women who are struggling to understand not only their connections to one another, but also how they fit into an ever-changing world. It’s a multi-generational tale with a ton of heart, a book that’s sure to appeal to any woman who has questioned her place within her family or society as a whole.
It’s been a long time since Pruett Fontaine has been truly happy with her life. Her marriage has recently ended, and her relationship with her sixteen-year-old daughter Daisy is not as close as it used to be. Plus, Pruett has long been estranged from her parents who live in a small town in Louisiana, a town Pruett left as soon as she graduated from high school nearly twenty years before the story opens. Basically, she’s going through the motions these days, not really accomplishing much, but uncertain as to how to change things for the better.
When her mother Lila dies suddenly from a heart attack, Pruett is summoned home to take possession of the bed and breakfast Lila has been running with her girlfriend Carol. Pruett feels a great deal of animosity toward Carol, holding her responsible for Lila’s decision to walk out on her husband and daughter when Pruett was a child. She can’t understand why her mother chose to leave the bed and breakfast to her rather than to Carol, and her initial thought is to sell it as soon as possible.
Once Pruett and Daisy arrive in Louisiana, childhood memories both good and bad come back to Pruett, and she begins questioning some of the feelings she’s been clinging to for years. Slowly, with the help of Lila’s journals, Pruett begins peeling back the layers of mystery surrounding her mother in hopes of coming to a better understanding of what kind of person Lila was, separate from her identity as Pruett’s absentee mother.
Most of the story is told from Pruett’s point of view, but the reader is also treated to excerpts from Lila’s journals as well as a few chapters from the perspectives of both Carol and Daisy. I enjoyed this method of storytelling, as I felt connected to each character in her own right, rather than simply relying on Pruett’s perceptions of the people around her. This was especially helpful in the case of Lila. Since she dies at the beginning of the book, her journal entries provide a great deal of insight into her life, insight we wouldn’t have gotten had the story been told in any other way.
Pruett proved difficult for me to warm up to. I don’t have a ton of patience for grown women who behave like teenagers, and there were several occasions when she did exactly that. She seems incapable of seeing beyond her own feelings, and I found the way she treated Carol pretty horrible. Fortunately, she does mature a bit as the story unfolds, but not enough to make her a heroine I could fully relate to.
The strength of this novel lies primarily in the author’s ability to create complex relationships between her characters. Even though I didn’t always love Pruett, I still give Ms. Stone Props for her ability to make me care what happened to her. I enjoyed watching her come to terms with her past and discover just how important the people she left behind really were. Friends and family didn’t exactly excuse Pruett’s bad behavior, but neither did they hold unnecessary grudges. Each character has a convincing backstory that helped me understand her motivations, and I loved watching these four very different women navigate the various obstacles put in their paths.
My one major complaint has to do with Pruett’s reasons for initially leaving town. The author spends a lot of time hinting at what caused Pruett to leave, but I never fully comprehended her reasons for doing so. It felt like a very extreme reaction to a set of circumstances that were not fully fleshed out, and I think this had a lot to do with my inability to empathize with her as a heroine. I wanted to understand why leaving felt like the best option, but that didn’t happen for me. Instead, I ended up feeling kind of frustrated and this did detract a bit from my overall enjoyment of the story the author was telling.
In spite of the above complaint, there’s a lot to like about The Carousel. Its imperfections are pretty noticeable, but so are the things that cause it to stand out in a good way. The setting is vividly drawn, making me feel as though I was experiencing a Louisiana summer instead of a cold and rainy Michigan winter, and it’s not every book that transports me out of my real life in this way. The author’s way with words is impressive, and the novel’s narrative structure is quite immersive; I would definitely be interested in reading more of her work in the future