From Publishers Weekly
Praised for his portrait of a strong-willed mother raising a Down's syndrome child in Jewel, Lott returns to the notion that some burdens are in fact blessings in this quiet, tender novel about what it means to go home again. After her only son, Mahlon, is killed in a car accident, widow Naomi Robinson is sure of one thing: she must leave New England, where she and her husband settled after WWII, and head home to South Carolina. In trying to recapture the joy of her childhood, Naomi hopes to find serenity and redemption, a process hampered by a 50-year-old secret she's kept hidden from all but her best friend. To Naomi's surprise, Mahlon's wife, Ruth, vows to join her. The book unfolds slowly, as mother and wife cope with their shared grief amid a loving, working-class family they barely knew they had. Based on the biblical story of Ruth, Lott's novel doesn't pivot on plot turns but rather on small observations about the power of mementos and rituals to give one a sense of history and belonging, and about how forgiveness can weigh the heart down more than guilt. At times, the writing shines with pathos-as when Naomi recognizes that "[l]oss was alive down here too.... You'd have to be a fool to believe otherwise, to think that loss lived only where you left it"-while at other times, it feels greeting card-like, with plenty of repetitive, treacly telegraphic paragraphs ("Eli. Her husband. Her love"). Lott misses the opportunity to make Ruth more interesting; she comes across as a one-dimensional martyr, beautiful, devoted and boring. The blessing is that readers will find it easy to identify with Naomi and Ruth's tragic loss, and aren't likely to notice.
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In this highly emotional depiction of grief and its aftermath, Lott (Jewel, 1991) expertly avoids the sickly sweet sentimentality that often torpedoes books of its ilk, such as Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie (1997) or Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook (1996). Instead Lott brings gravitas and a biblical cadence to his story of seventysomething Naomi, a widow forced to confront death once again when her son, Mahlon, is killed in a car accident. As Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, stumble through the weeks following the funeral in a haze of grief and sadness, Naomi keeps returning to an image from her South Carolina childhood--a slant of light scattered on pine straw. This memory inspires her to move back to her hometown, and her daughter-in-law goes with her: "Where you go, I will go." Lott's great gift here is the way he elevates the small rituals of everyday life--a child's Thanksgiving drawing, homemade biscuits for breakfast--into transcendent moments of human connection. Although the relationships presented are idealized, with nary a cross word exchanged, they are never less than persuasive. Lott's rhythmic and repetitive phrasing, revealing the source of his inspiration--the Book of Ruth--is both artful and soothing. This is a radiant, achingly tender portrait of the grieving process. Joanne Wilkinson
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