Author: Hyatt Bass
Publishing Info: Henry Holt & Company, July 2009
Book Specs: 287 pages
Book Category: Fiction
My Rating: 3 stars
Emily Ascher is getting married. Like many brides, she has pre-wedding jitters. After all, her parents’ marriage was volatile and ended in divorce. And Emily has some ghosts haunting her (not literal ghosts…this book is grounded in reality!) — especially that of her beloved brother Thomas, who died 16 years earlier. By planning to hold the wedding on the site where Thomas died, Emily finds herself remembering what her family used to be, who she used to be, and how things can fall apart even when so much love is present. Estranged from her playwright father Joe — who she idolized as a child — and still tentative with her mother Laura, Emily is reluctant to make a commitment to the man she thinks she loves but who doesn’t seem to provide the kind of fireworks she was hoping for.
Emily’s mother Laura thinks she has moved on with her new marriage. But the prospect of seeing her ex-husband Joe at the wedding makes her more nervous that she thinks she should be. And when Emily confides that she is having cold feet about the upcoming wedding, Laura tries to find a way to reach out and make things right. However, everything she seems to do ends up going wrong and being misinterpreted by Emily. Unwilling to lose another child, Laura tries to find a way to help her daughter without alienating her and to finally make peace with the past that keeps calling to her.
Emily’s father Joe is distant and an alcoholic. His promising career skidded off-track after his divorce from Laura and Thomas’s* death. He seems to have lost his muse and compass in life. Unwilling to reveal the depths of his pain to either Laura or Emily, Joe suffers alone — being cantankerous and difficult whenever he is in contact with Emily. His guilt over what happened to Thomas and his unwillingness to divulge his part in it to Laura or Emily keeps Joe from being able to let this pain go. But a trip to a small town to write about an inn for a lifestyle magazine (a “pity” assignment) ends up forcing him to face some of the demons from his past, realize the depths of his drinking problem and begin to face what happened to his family.
* I hemed and hawed over how to do the possssive when the name ends in a plural. Is it Thomas’s or Thomas’?
The Embers is a perfect title for this book as it really is about the Ascher family sifting through the embers of the fire that destroyed their family. The novel moves back and forth between the past and the present as each surviving Ascher struggles to come to terms with the tragedies that ripped their family apart. Make no mistake, the family had problems aplenty before Thomas’s death, but there seemed to be a promise of hope and reconciliation that is completely destroyed after Thomas dies. Yet a small spark refuses to be extinguished, and it is this spark that must be dealt with before Emily can fully enter into her marriage with a happy heart.
This is a Hyatt Bass’s first novel, and I was impressed. She does a good job of providing a glimpse into the minds of all the Aschers and the transitions between the past and the present are well-done. For me, Joe was the most intriguing and confusing character. And Emily was hard to empathize with as well. All the members of the Ascher family end up so damaged (with the possible exception of Laura) that you really ache for them to find some peace and just talk with each other! Unfortunately, I think this is a very accurate depiction of dysfunctional family dynamics. Sometimes, the people you most need to talk to are the people you end up pushing away. Again and again, the Aschers turn away from each other — unwilling to dig up the past. But you do have to face the past if you want to make a future, and the road leading the Aschers to reconciliation and peace is well-written and convincing.
This isn’t a happy book but an emotional look at one family’s implosion and how the road to reconciliation, forgiveness and peace is not an easy one.
My Final Recommendation
If you are looking for a thoughtful examination of family dynamics, this book would be a good choice. Although it is not an easy or light read, I think it is worthwhile — especially if you are dealing with family issues of your own. It might help you to realize how the past affects your present and that reconciling the events of your past may help you to move forward with an open heart. I look forward to seeing what else this first-time author has to say.
I received this book via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.
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