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The Embers: A Novel Hardcover – June 23, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Director, producer and screenwriter Bass creates a riveting narrative that digs into the notion that there is nothing that happens to a child that does not implicate the parent in some way. Emily Ascher is planning her wedding at the site of her Berkshires childhood family vacation home, on the very hillside where the ashes of her brother, Thomas, are scattered. Alternating between present day and the past, Emily's story, along with that of her divorced parents, Joe and Laura, unfolds along with the circumstances surrounding Thomas's death. Joe, a once famous actor and playwright, is now consumed by a desire to create and equally consumed by his inability to do so, while Laura, now remarried, still carries the emotional scars of a rocky first marriage and the inability to truly understand or successfully communicate with her daughter. Bass creates a large window into the workings of the Ascher family, exposing how small slights or seemingly minute actions ripple with consequence. Bass's excavation of a complex familial labyrinth is an elegant testament to the beautiful mess that is family. (July)
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In her first novel, screenwriter-producer Bass explores the effects of a child’s death on a nuclear family. As Emily Ascher plans her wedding, years after her older brother Thomas died in his teens, she still talks to him and wants to be married where his ashes were scattered. The grief felt by Thomas’ now-divorced parents, Joe and Laura, is compounded by Joe’s guilt for his part in his son’s death. Flashbacks work forward from 1992, revealing family relationships: the ongoing mother-daughter conflict between Laura and Emily, Joe’s ups and downs as a playwright and actor and his affair that ends the marriage, and eventually the circumstances of Thomas’ death. Sadly, none of these primary characters is particularly likable: Emily comes across as petulant, Joe as egotistical, and Laura as dutiful but sometimes remote. And the degree of talk and analysis about how the three of them have failed each other dilutes the tragedy of the death of a beloved 17-year-old. A well-intentioned but flawed debut. --Michele Leber
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Top Customer Reviews
Laura and Joe are married and their relationship is rocky and sometimes tumultuous. Joe is a playwright and actor who needs the spotlight. Laura is an unfulfilled actress who is a full-time mother and wife. She prefers solitude and the comfort of her family to being in a social setting, let alone the limelight.
"...he and she existed on different planes: she in a miniscule, private world into which she would
admit only him - if only he would come - and he in a much bigger world she could not enter
without losing all sense of her self." (p. 271).
Their two children are Emily and Thomas. Emily is the acting out child and Thomas is wise beyond his years, in a sense serving as the parental wisdom for the whole family. After Thomas's death, each member of the family attempts to bear the burden of their grief in different ways.
How each member of the family works to heal themselves and to process their grief is the central theme of this book. The book's chapters go back and forth between the present time and the past, when Thomas was still alive. In different chapters, each family member gets a chance to voice their own perceptions of what is happening now and what they remember from the past.
This is a good book, one I enjoyed reading. It speaks in a soft voice about deep and important issues.
The Ascher's are for the most part an unlikeable group of people. Throughout the story, Emily is preparing for her wedding to Clay, a man who clearly loves her and who ignored my repeated pleas to run for his life. His family was mentioned only at the end, where his mother was made into a clownish and bumbling figure. I felt rather sorry for her, and decided that her two or three sentences made her into my favorite character.
Laura is married to Earl, having been divorced from Joe when their daughter was fifteen years old. Thomas, as we are made to understand very early on in the book is dead. I was sorry about that, because he was the member of the family that I liked the most.
Joe is a playwright who drinks, and leads a lonely and rather vague seeming life. His peculiar relationship with a teen aged girl is explained at the end of the book, where he was finally redeemed in my eyes. Prior to the ending, he seemed to make little effort to remain part of the admittedly broken family. Having said that, I would not have made much effort to remain close to Emily either. She was self absorbed to the point of rudeness to all of those unfortunate enough to find themselves in her presence. She showed a spark of empathy once, but it was a very small spark.
The time line fluctuates back and forth from the early 1990's until the near present. In my opinion, it fluctuated clumsily. I felt that it made the story seem to be fragmented and even less enjoyable.
I believe that if I had skipped to the very last chapter of the book, and read only that, I would have liked this family, much more.