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August 2014

I Was Alone, I Was All By Myself, No One Was Looking, No Time To Bemoan

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“She smiled for the camera, of course, like a dutiful daughter, but when people say ‘her smile didn’t reach her eyes’…well, looking at this picture, I understood that phrase. Had she been thinking about her application to Julliard when this picture was taken? Had the fact that she was talented enough to apply not been enough to validate her? What pressure she must have been under during her whole young life. Child Prodigy. It couldn’t have been easy for her.”

By twenty-five-years of age Riley has lost everyone she has ever loved. To paint a clearer picture we need to take it all the way back to the beginning. At two year’s of age Riley’s older sister Lisa committed suicide by drowning which meant the unconditional love predisposed to family was there but the endured love never had a chance to surface. Her brother Danny has been a shell of his former loving, big brother self since being honourably discharged from the war in Iraq. Riley’s mother Deb died when she was eighteen. She has recently broken up with her long term boyfriend Bryan due to his procrastination in filing his divorce papers from his current wife. Her BFF Shenise is doing missionary work in Haiti throughout the whole summer leaving her no one to confide in. And to top it all off her father Frank has just died of a heart attack at sixty-three, which brings us to the start of Riley’s journey as a truly independent woman.

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” ‘Who are you pissed off at?’ I asked.
‘Who am I not pissed off at would be a shorter answer.’ he said. ‘Our tucking government, for one. The shitty things they made me do over there. Made me…’ He gave me an angry shake of his head. ‘You don’t even see people as human beings after a while when you’re there, you know?’ he said. ‘And I’m pissed at our parents. Our lying prick of a father and our ice queen of a mother. And our selfish bitch of a sister!’ His face was red and damp with sweat, his breathing loud. ‘She took up all of the air in our family. There was nothing left for anyone else.’ “

Upon hearing the news Riley leaves her current home town of Durham, North Carolina to her interstate childhood home of New Bern. Fully understanding that her brother will be of little help, she must solely take on the tremendous responsibility of following through on her father’s last will and testament as well as other affairs that simultaneously pop up. While taking care of all these after life, daughterly duties Riley soon finds out that her father wasn’t exactly everything she perceived him to be. After reuniting with long time family friend and current real estate agent Jeanne Lyons, Riley discovers that they were having a relationship soon after her mother’s death. Riley is upset upon finding out that her father wasn’t the socially isolated, old, reclusive, eccentric that she thought he was. To the point where she almost comes to terms with the fact that she didn’t even know him at all. With respect to her mom, Riley always regarded her as a law-abiding, heavily religious, overtly distant woman. However; Jeannie knew her as a rebellious, life of the party, and affectionate young woman. That all changed when her first born Lisa died. As days pass and more secrets are revealed Riley’s memory of her sister Lisa slowly deteriorates. As Riley encounters family friends, her father’s acquaintances and their independent motivations she must unearth little bits of information that everyone around her is trying to bury, and she must do it all on her own.

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” ‘I have as many nightmares about our family as I do about Iraq,’ he added.
‘I don’t understand,’ I said. ‘I mean, it’s not like you were abused or anything.’
He lifted the bottle to his lips, tipping his head back to get the last drop. ‘There are all sorts of abuse.’ he said, setting the bottle down again.”

My mom loves Diane Chamberlain novels and I inquired about this book with her in mind. Well, her unwillingness to start is her loss and to my surprise, my gain. I didn’t anticipate liking this book because I always had the understanding that the author’s stories were tailored to the afternoon soap opera crowd with oooooooo’s and awwwwwww’s at every turn of the page. This is more of a lifetime or hallmark channel type story which made it more realistic, less ridiculous and very rewarding. This book is everything the emboldened blurbs expressed on the back and more. Some of the problems I had with the story was that like many mystery novels I saw some of the surprises from a mile away. But to her credit some of the events stopped me right in my tracks. Some of the secondary characters are not given the proper due diligence in terms of closure after playing a significant role earlier in the story. This book leaves the reader with a lot of unanswered questions, but in the end, the good far outweighs the bad.

“She missed her violin so much. She’d never been one of those children whose parents had to force to practice. Instead, they had to force her to go outside and play. To Lisa the violin had been a reward. Even when she was eight or nine and the neighborhood kids were out riding their bikes on a Saturday morning, she’d wake up with her fingers twitching, ready to pick up the bow. Her violin had gotten her through some terrible times and now, during the loneliest, scariest time of her life, she didn’t have the one thing that could calm her.”

My only preconception about “chick-litty” type of books was that it was one big, huge, everlasting sexcapade, the female characters would be a bunch of maneaters drinking wine, eating tappas and talking about how awful men are, or the writer makes it so every male character is an unemotional, distant, cold, malevolent presence. If the author was guilty of one of these criteria for this novel it would definitely be the latter (which I personally resent). Every man that you encounter in this novel is a pure dick, and even the one man that you only hear about through other people’s perspective ends up being a twisted human being (if you believe everything your told). And the only man that leaves you feeling like he is a solid upstanding man may end up having a huge impact on the lives of the main characters. But one things for sure, I am glad that Riley didn’t find a man that swept her off her feet along the way, that would have made it real chick-litty and for me real tough to swallow.

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Like a good sheet of music this story is beautifully-orchestrated, tightly-composed, and well-executed. The plot is intricately-woven with plenty of twists and turns and emotional peaks and valleys on the literary terrain. The author does a great job in persuading the reader to show benevolence for a momentary presence of inhumanity, while loathing a vigilant person’s desire for justice from their desperate need, their wanting to play god. Plenty of moral dilemmas and inner dialogue to be had from reading this book. With my lack of history of Diane Chamberlain novels it would be hard for me to recommend this to devoted fans, but I believe in this novel and would recommend it to devoted Diane Chamberlain fans.

” ‘Everybody has a scar, Riley,’ she says, touching my shoulder. ‘Maybe they’ve fought a terrible illness. Or they’ve lost a child, or been hurt by someone they love. Or maybe they’ve been unlucky enough to lose their family. But then again’ – she smiles at me in the mirror, then reaches out to smooth my bangs over the mark – ‘maybe they’ve been lucky enough to find one.’ “

 

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