Winter in Full Bloom
The hero of this novel tells us, “You don’t really know people until there’s a tragedy. Even family. Suffering has this way of stripping us all bare of any pretenses. There can be no more pretending.” This encapsulates the essence of what the book is about: truth, what it is, and if we always need to know it. Also, life is made up of tragedy. Lots and lots of tragedy.
Lily Winter is suffering from severe empty nest syndrome. Her husband is dead, her daughter Julie has just gone away to college. Anxious to add more meaning to her life she decides to reconcile with her mother, whom she hasn’t seen in ten years. Their icy reunion turns fiery when her mother makes a startling proclamation – Lily has a twin sister, given away when she was just one year old. Her mother has received a note from the woman; it contains her name and the name of the church she is currently attending. While the note is pertinent in that it lets them know she is still alive and currently living in Australia, it gives them no way to contact her. Lily’s mother feels this is best; the past should be left in the past. Lily feels quite differently.
Determined to unite her family, Lily -with her phobia of plane crashes fully intact – boards a plane to Australia. Her first day finds her sitting dejectedly on a park bench, having made inquiries at the church given only to find her sister is not known to anyone there. However, God is with her. The park bench she chooses for her cry just happens to be the favorite bench of one Marcus Averill. Marcus has seen someone who looks quite a lot like Lily before. Offering her a meal and a guide, he takes her to where they might find her sister. Very quickly Lily’s journey turns into not just a family reunion but a second chance at a dynamic new love.
I’ll start with the one thing I truly enjoyed about this novel: location. I’ve read several books set in Australia but they have all been from a native Australian or New Zealander’s point of view. It was refreshing to take in the Land Down Under through the eyes of a fellow American. The language (they apparently abbreviate everything they can), the unique foods (kangaroo on the barbie, rabbit in a meat pie), and the charming locations, such as the laneways full of bistros and shops, are a treat to read about. I felt I got a better sense of the differences between our two countries by taking this written tour of what sounds like an absolutely amazing city. Alas, the rest of the novel is not quite as brilliant.
The author proceeds to throw a virtual everything but the kitchen sink set of events at us. Every character seems to be surrounded by some kind of tragedy. Part of this is due to the fact that her characters never seem to make small talk; every conversation is a slew of information. Each person seems willing, nay, anxious, to share their heart with whomever they are talking to. That means that nearly every time someone opened their mouth we heard about a death in the family that deeply affected them, a spouse who cheated, a boyfriend who raped, or a father that beat them. It was not only overwhelming, it was overkill. Most authors would have used one or two of these events; they wouldn’t have filled the entire book with them.
The book still might have worked, even with all the tragedy, if it weren’t for the fact that we never really get to know the characters or understand what makes them tick. There was a strange disconnect between the fact that we knew what had happened to the character and how they felt about it because they told us in dialogue, and the fact that we didn’t really know the person feeling the emotions and experiencing those events. Sure, I could list facts about Lily, but I couldn’t flesh her out. She was at best two-dimensional when I met her, and stayed that way through the end. I suppose the easiest way to say it is that we had storybook characters that never came to life.
I really wanted to love this story because of the older protagonists but in the end this novel was a hodgepodge of different story lines that never really meshed together. I wish I could recommend it but unfortunately it simply isn’t a book I can endorse.