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The Rope Walk: A Novel Hardcover – May 1, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Like Brown's first novel, Rose's Garden, her sixth sets themes of tolerance and understanding in a picture-postcard setting. In a Vermont town where a description of the local library racks up a dozen adjectives (including "tall," "bracing," "rippling," "silvery" and "delicious"), children collect butterflies and recite "Hiawatha." When Kenneth Fitzgerald, the artist who sponsored the library's transformation from dreary to spectacular, returns to his childhood home dying of AIDS, he asks 10-year-old Alice MacCauley and her neighbors' manic visiting mixed-race grandson, Thelonious Swann— "a tawny little lion cub"—to come by and read to him in the afternoons. Alice's mother died young; her father teaches Shakespeare and recites it around the house (while her older brothers blow smoke rings), so Alice is primed for literature. All three are drawn into Lewis and Clark's journals as Alice reads them aloud; the explorers' historic journey stands in for Fitzgerald's journey toward death and for Alice and Theo's trip into nascent first love and adulthood. The rope Alice walks isn't very high off the ground, but Brown keeps it taut and stretched across some engaging vistas. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Alice MacCauley and her family are celebrating her 10th birthday. As the guests arrive, readers are introduced to neighbors, friends, and family, all of whom have hidden prejudices and anxieties. Theo, the biracial grandson of Alice's father's friends, is supposed to be visiting his grandparents, but by the end of the evening he is sharing Alice's bedroom and will become a fixture in her family for the remainder of the season. Over the course of the summer they share secrets, befriend a dying artist, and learn more about suffering, humanity, and intolerance then any child her age needs to know. Together they try to make sense of the world, particularly of how adults think and why people hate the way they do. One of the lessons Alice learns is that the most heartfelt intentions can produce the most tragic results. Teens looking for an angst-filled novel will find that this one asks many questions about life and relationships without providing any pat answers.–Joanne Ligamari, Rio Linda School District, Sacramento, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (May 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375424636
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375424632
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #668,457 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Author website:

Carrie Brown is the author of six acclaimed novels -- Rose's Garden, Lamb in Love, Confinement, The Hatbox Baby, The Rope Walk, and The Last First Day-- as well as a collection of short stories, The House on Belle Isle. A seventh novel, The Stargazer's Sister, will be published by Pantheon Books in January of 2016.

She has won many awards for her work, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the Barnes and Noble Discover Award, the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, The Great Lakes Book Award, and, twice, the Library of Virginia Award. Her short fiction has appeared in journals including One Story, Glimmer Train, The Georgia Review, and The Oxford American. Her work has been translated into several languages, and she has appeared at literary festivals, libraries, bookstores, and colleges and universities across the country.

A graduate of Brown University and the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Virginia, where she held a prestigious Henry Hoyns Fellowship, she has taught creative writing at Sweet Briar College as the Margaret Banister Writer-in-Residence, at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro as a visiting writer, and at Hollins University as the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Creative Writing.

Carrie and her husband, the novelist John Gregory Brown, spent two decades writing and teaching side by side in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains at Sweet Briar College, where John Gregory Brown directed the college's creative writing program. They raised three children at their home on the campus at Sweet Briar. Over the years, they were fortunate to host many of the world's great writers at their home, Sanctuary Cottage, and to introduce those writers and their work to hundreds of students.

In the Fall of 2015 Carrie Brown and John Gregory Brown will join the faculty at Deerfield Academy.

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
There are novels driven by either character or plot, and at least one more category that might best be described as "atmospheric," in which the author sets herself the principal task of creating gorgeous word pictures that lodge themselves indelibly in our subconscious. Carrie Brown's sixth novel fits comfortably into this last group, the book's ravishing images destined to linger in the mind long after the details of its quiet story are forgotten.

THE ROPE WALK opens on May 29, 2005, Alice MacCauley's 10th birthday. Alice, a redhead and something of a tomboy, lives with her father Archie, a Shakespeare scholar and dean of a small college, and five older brothers in the town of Grange, Vermont. Her mother had died in a horse riding accident one month after Alice's birth. At her birthday party Alice meets two people who will change her life over the course of the summer during which most of the novel's action is concentrated: Theo Swann, the mixed-race grandson of family friends who has come from New York City to spend the summer, and Kenneth Fitzgerald, a prominent artist whose eccentric sister is caring for him as he is dying of AIDS.

On the evening of Alice's party, Theo's grandmother suffers a stroke. The MacCauley family takes him in as a temporary accommodation, but a bond quickly grows between the children and it soon becomes apparent that he's destined to spend the summer with them. Theo is a preternaturally bright boy who believes any problem can be solved with a toolbox and a bit of imagination, and his urban upbringing has made him more sophisticated than Alice. Still, he lacks her courage, fleeing from their initial encounter with Fitzgerald, who is disfigured from the effects of his disease and grabbing Alice's shirt at moments of stress.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. Gaughran on June 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
From the first scene, this story mesmerizes with its pitch-perfect recounting of a summer friendship between two children, Alice and Theo. These kindred souls, from strikingly different backgrounds, enjoy a shared view of the beautiful and sometimes sad world around them. "The Rope Walk" reminded me, in feeling, of another favorite, "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Best book I've read in years.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Liv on June 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This novel made me cry from joy, sadness, fear, and recognition. It evoked childhood in ways that I hadn't experienced in a long time. The descriptions of how Alice thinks, feels, and acts are so true to the years of innocent discovery the author so beautifully contextualizes. This novel really made me remember my childhood and how amazing it is to lose the angelic innocence that we don't even realize we had until it's gone. In some ways, reading it made me feel like a kid again.

The author writes in a way that almost seduces the reader. Her descriptions are eloquent and fit perfectly into the flowing narrative of the story. She is incredibly talented and can paint a scene so vividly that the reader feels as though s/he visits it in dreams. This is a wonderful novel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Lupi P. Robinson on July 24, 2008
Format: Paperback
This beautifully realized gem of a novel has all of life's big issues writ on a small canvas. Family relationships, love, loss, inter-racial relationships, AIDS,and death are all here, seen through the eyes of an enchanting 10 year old in rural Vermont.I wanted to be part of Alice's family. I did not want this book to end.

If The Rope Walk had been written by Ian McEwan (supposing for a moment he were capable of such restraint), we would be talking Booker Prize. It is amazing that this book has not received wider acclaim.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on September 16, 2008
Format: Paperback
Like a gourmet meal at a five-star restaurant, The Rope Walk, by Carrie Brown, delights the senses from appetizer to dessert. A total sensory experience, it's seasoned with just the right metaphors, it evokes both the sweet and savory memories of childhood, and is filled with the richest characters.

I love this book. So deep is its spell, I found it difficult to keep it located in time. Even though it is set in today's small-town Vermont, I literally kept forgetting it wasn't talking about a different time--a different place. It's so ethereal, so timeless, so completely its own world.

And I'm not completely sure it really isn't its own world. "On her windowsill, Alice waited, watching. The full energy of the day, like a parade assembling its drums and cymbals and marching players, lay just out of sight, gathering strength at the of the world. Any moment now, the day's brimming cup would spill over the far treetops and flood the hour with light." That sounds like a creation story to me.

The Rope Walk tells the story of the relationship between a white, ten-year-old small-town girl, Alice, and Theo, a young black boy from the big city. Thrown together by his grandmother's illness, Theo comes to live with her family for the summer. With all the spontaneity and innocence of childhood, the two children find adventure, intimacy, solace and heartache as they delicately walk the line between their own world and the adult world that surrounds them.

If you only have a short time to visit this new world, do not pick up The Rope Walk, choose a magazine instead. This book is a feast and deserves the ambiance of a five-star restaurant rather than a fast-food drive through.

Armchair Interviews says: Powerful storytelling to touch your heart.
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