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Sweetwater: A Novel Paperback – March 8, 2005
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Critically acclaimed but not well known, Robinson will reach a broader audience with this hold-your-breath novel of loss and love. Devoted to her work for Environmental Protection Resources, Isabel is trying hard to recover from the shock of her first husband's death. She likes Paul's thoughtfulness and convinces herself that a peaceful rather than passionate second marriage is appropriate. Loving wilderness, she embarks optimistically on a vacation in the Adirondacks with Paul's parents and brother, Whitney. But rather than contentedly contemplating nature, Isabel finds herself embroiled in tricky family conflicts. Alarmed by Paul's simmering fury and dangerously attracted to Whitney, she is assailed by painful memories of her harrowing first marriage, which Robinson skillfully sets in chilling counterpoint to the increasingly heated dynamics of Isabel's present predicament. As family strife turns incendiary, forest fires erupt on the drought-afflicted landscape, and Isabel fights for her life in an emotional and literal inferno. Writing with rapturous intensity of nature both wild and human, Robinson forges a love story of unusual complexity and satisfaction. Donna Seaman
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“Sweetwater is a repository for all of Roxana Robinson’s writerly gifts, most notably her keen eye for the details that make up the veneer of social and familial life and her awareness of the darker psychic rivers that run below that surface. She is a master at moving from the art of description to the work of excavating the truths about ourselves.” —Billy Collins
“There is such quiet power in this fateful novel, present from the start and gathering to its culmination: a story of loss and remarriage, and of the harm done to, and by, vulnerable men and women. This is cool, intrepid writing, not a word wasted, creating a human tension that reflects our endangered world.” —Shirley Hazzard
“In four previous works of fiction, Robinson established herself as an astute and sensitive chronicler of domestic tensions, particularly among affluent families in wealthy enclaves of Manhattan and exclusive summer abodes. Here she broadens her canvas to introduce larger social issues....Sweetwater succeeds as a moving study of a woman’s emergence from a suffocating life.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Isabel Green, the book's passive-aggressive protagonist (you could hardly call her its hero) has in her mid-40s drifted into her second marriage, to Paul Simmons, after the death of her first husband; and she is now visiting her inlaws--in their summer lodge in New York State's Adirondacks area. For the first time she meets her parents-in-law, Douglas and Charlotte, and her brother-in-law Whit. Against a background of drought and the possibility of forest fires, an old family feud is played out in front of Isabel--who's exactly the wrong person to be the audience. She's one of those people who can take any bad situation and make it worse.
Isabel's a mess. She works in environmental protection and has spent her entire adult life in New York, Baltimore, London, and New York again. Now she's actually seeing "the environment" for the first time; it's more than she expected. In flashbacks we learn that her first husband was bipolar and suffered from serious bouts of depression. She has an adolescent son she has no idea how to talk to (she won't discuss drugs with him because she's afraid she might learn he's taking them); and when she calls her first husband's doctor to learn how he is progressing with his latest treatments, she is curtly told he cannot discuss the case with her (implying she's the cause of his illness), and she does not even confront him.
Roxana Robinson relates all this in a lean photorealist prose style. There is no excess; but she tells you everything you need to know. Her descriptive passages are so lush, you'll probably smell the fish in the water, and the smoke and ash of an oncoming forest fire. The tale unfolds in traditional novel style--no picture inserts; just one typeface; no blank pages. And while there are sections in the early chapters that might just as well come supplied with the label FORESHADOWING in Arial bold, when the events occur or issues are resolved, the resolution never happens quite the way you'd suppose.