The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook – Book Review

The Aftermath by Rhidian BrookIn Rhidian Brook’s stunning post World War II novel, The Aftermath, English Colonel Lewis Morgan is tasked with reinvigorating Hamburg and the surrounding territory while also determining the degrees of guilt or innocent of the population and ensuring the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. While carrying out his duties, Lewis is reunited with his wife Rachael and son Edmund, who come to him after a separation of several years, with a brief exception for Lewis to attend the funeral of his eldest son. Allied officers are housed in the residences off the wealthy Germans, while they are re-homed in camps. Faced with evicting the family living in the mansion that has been chosen for him Lewis, without consulting his wife, decides that the two families will share the spacious home. Inevitably, tensions arise as the families try to cope with the new living situations and their own precarious relationships.

It’s easy to be wary of World War II novels. It’s a period that lends itself to dramatization, and it’s easy to feel as if you’ve read certain stories before. At this point, I am pretty selective about the ones I choose to read, but I am willing to take a chance on the novels that I think will offer up a different perspective. The Aftermath caught my attention for that reason. Brook writes eloquently about the devastation of the country, pride and livelihoods of the people, many of whom were near starving in camps. Edmund is befriended by a group of boys who have no one but each other, his German teacher arrives thin, hungry and worried that he will be convicted of crimes greater than the ones he has committed. Throughout the novel questions and degrees of guilt are explored with few satisfactory answers. How can you tell who is good just by appearances? Whom can you trust?

Brook weaves all of these issues seamlessly into this tapestry of family, homecomings, love, redemption and loss. Lewis and Rachael’s uncomfortable relationship and loss of each other, and their failed attempts at regaining a semblance of former intimacy form shape the novel, along with Herr Lubert’s mourning his wife, anger at his reduced circumstances, and lack of control over rebellious Freda. Brook masterfully build impalpable tension as the families struggle to achieve civility toward each other in the face of suspicion, stereotypes, and class tension. Lewis’s ability to have compassion for the community he serves, but being unable to extend that same thoughtfulness and courtesy to his family is thoughtfully explored over the course of the story. There were so many powder kegs that I expected to explode during the course of the novel, but each situation comes to a head in ways that were satisfying, and mostly, surprising. The Aftermath is a wonderful novel – rich in historical detail, impressive in its analysis of the subtle contradictions of human frailty and strength, and a fine example of engaging and compelling storytelling. Highly recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

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Out of Twenty: Suzanne Redfearn, Author of Hush Little Baby, Answers Questions Sixteen Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Suzanne Redfearn is the author of Hush Little Baby, a novel about a woman who risks her leaving an abusive relationship for the sake of her life and her children’s.  Here is what Suzanne had to say about reading, writing, and cringing at her early work.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and whatSuzanne Redfearn kind of books you like to write?

Thank you for inviting me to do this interview.  Like my protagonist I am an architect who lives in Laguna Beach, California. I have two kids, and my husband and I own a restaurant called Lumberyard.  I am an “accidental author.” I didn’t set out to be a writer or go to school for it, I sat down one day with a story and started to write. Seven months later I had my first novel and I was hooked.  Hush Little Baby is my fifth novel, but the first one to get published.  It turned out that I love to tell stories. The stories I’m particularly drawn to are contemporary tales of morality. I love creating complex characters who I then pit against each other on either side of an issue.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

Write, write, write, and keep writing. I don’t worry about finishing or where it the story is going. I allow the story to develop at its own pace and its own organic way, but I always write. I keep notebooks everywhere and I don’t restrict myself to writing sequentially. I do a lot of my writing in my car. An idea will strike me and I’ll pull over and write a single line or a chapter. The best ideas come when I’m not thinking about the story. I keep a sticky note beside my computer that reads, “Drama is anticipation with uncertainty.” I go where the story leads me, having faith that it will take me somewhere unexpected and amazing.

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?  What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

Hush Little Baby is relevant to our times. The story was inspired by a couple who were going through a horrible divorce. There was a lot of he said/she said, and it was impossible to know who was telling the truth. It made me realize the power one spouse has to destroy the other. The idea was originally about marital sabotage and evolved into one about domestic violence and how far a mother will go to protect her children. In order to write the story I needed to do extensive research on abusive relationships and gained a chilling understanding of the pathology behind domestic violence. It made me realize that every woman is susceptible to the fear and manipulation abusers use to control their victims. I became incredibly sympathetic and much more understanding of their plight.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

I just finished The Rosie Project and I absolutely loved it. Some of my favorite books are The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Writing has definitely changed the way I read. If I read something wonderful, I find myself envious of the author’s talent. If I read something not so wonderful, I find myself editing the book as I read which distracts me from enjoying it.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?

I do read when I’m writing. I try to avoid novels too similar to what I’m working on, but I find other author’s voices inspiring. I also do a lot of research, devouring anything and everything that pertains to the topic on which I’m writing.

What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book that you ultimately decided not to include?

Originally the novel had been titled Swing Low, and I had named it that because the hymn references Jillian’s Christian upbringing and hush little babyalludes to Jillian stooping to the level of Gordon in order to save her children.  A wonderful surprise came when I researched the song and discovered it was actually a song written by a black man who went to live with the Choctaw Native Americans after escaping slavery. The song is about him being separated from his family when he was sold as a young boy, and his hope to be reunited with them in heaven. He is praying to Jesus, asking if he will be forgiven for the bad things he’s done to survive – nearly the exact internal struggle Jillian deals with in the story. It was a wonderful discovery, but the title was changed, so the double-entendre was never realized.

What types of books would some of your characters have if they were readers?  Given their issues what book(s) would you suggest for them to read?

Jillian actually says in the novel that she loves dramatic literary novels by Anne Tyler and dark thrillers by Stephen King. I think she would also appreciate Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

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Lies You Wanted to Hear by James Whitfield Thomson – Book Review

Lies You Wanted to Hear

Though it begins in 1990 with a woman named Lucy mourning the loss of her son on his birthday, James Whitfield Thomson’s Lies You Wanted to Hear is essentially the origin story of Lucy Thornhill and Matt Drobyshev’s troubled marriage, and what happens when a relationship built on a faulty foundation collides with an obstacle that cannot be overcome. When Matt and Lucy meet, he is a young police officer from a modest background and means while she is the dilettante daughter of a wealthy businessman. Lucy had recently been deeply involved with the irresponsible and unfaithful Griffin, in a passionate and draining on-again/off-again affair. They never seem able to let go completely, and Lucy feels as if she should be ready to move into a more stable and committed relationship. Matt, for his part, loves Lucy immediately. While he suspects that Lucy doesn’t return the depth of his feelings, he is willing to accept what she is able to offer in the hopes that they can build a strong and loving marriage. There are many lies they tell themselves, but chief among them is that they will be happy together in the long run.

Thomson takes pains to establish Matt and Lucy’s relationship, and after their initial meeting and romance the novel progresses almost too slowly, and in too much detail, about the ins and outs of their marriage. The character’s stories unfold in alternating first person narratives, so while it is very interesting to see how they each view the relationship and each other, it is just as easy to see that they are mistaken in thinking they can successfully build a life together. Thomson bogs down the middle of story unnecessarily, and doesn’t leave much room to develop the end, which is where the novel shines. I knew that something happened to separate Lucy from her children, but it was something I forgot to wonder about as I found myself lost as I was in the tedium of Matt and Lucy’s marital woes and increasing animosity toward each other.

Putting the novel down for awhile ultimately helped me to finish it. I picked it up again, and the final third of the book had me hooked. For my taste, Thomson took too long to get to the meat of the story, but by the time he got there I was well versed in Matt and Lucy. I could see the perspective of both parents in the sad aftermath of their marriage, but I did little wavering between the two – though I felt I should. If you enjoy marital dramas, “he said, she said,”  and don’t mind a little extra filling in the middle, Lies You Wanted to Hear will definitely warrant interest. Thomson clearly communicates how sympathy and righteousness can be granted either aggrieved party, but most readers will stay play favorites with the characters (it’s almost impossible not to), as most of us will think we are as justified in our opinions as do Matt and Lucy.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Check out this interview where James Whitfield Thomson answers several questions about his writing, what he’s reading and Lies You Wanted to Hear.

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