“Letters are windows casting light, illuminating the ties between two people. I could’ve sneaked a peek inside my parents romance by reading his letters to her, but I respected my mother’s love of curtains. At forty-five, the details of their marriage remained a mystery to me; I had no desire to confirm what I already knew. Even dead, she loved him more than me. My mother spent her days drenched in memories of safe arms and sweet music, reading his precious words, faded ink on yellowed stationery. I looked for ghosts around corners, certain I was running out of time to find a way to be enough for her. An inability to live in the present was the one thing we had in common.” ~from Sea Escape, by Lynne Griffin
Such yearning in this opening paragraph from Lynne Griffin’s latest novel, such desire to deepen the bond between mother and child. It’s this elemental force which drives the plot of Sea Escape, a story about Laura Martinez and her mother, Helen Tobin, a story about the secrets they kept from one another, the feelings they never allowed themselves to share, and the ultimate boundary walls they finally surpassed.
Laura is the meat in the middle of that sandwich generation we hear so much about. At age 45, mother of two small children, happily married with a career as a neonatal nurse, her plate is already incredibly full. When her mother Helen suffers a stroke and becomes largely incapacitated, Laura searches desperately for a way to reach her, to incite her to live again, and to repair the breach that has grown between them over the years. She gathers the love letters written between her parents over the course of their marriage, years Laura’s father spent away from his family working as a foreign correspondent in Korea and Vietnam. These letters have remained Helen’s lifeline to her beloved and to the dreams they shared for their future. By reading them aloud to her mother, Laura hopes to rekindle Helen’s desire to live and buy herself more time to truly understand her parents complicated relationship and how it affected her mother’s love for her only daughter.
As in Life Without Summer, her previous novel, Griffin writes convincingly about the emotional stresses and strains of family relationships. As a practicing family therapist, she knows the power of family ties in shaping our view of the world and of ourselves, and the devastation that can result when they are severed. I could see myself in Laura – the desperate need to be all things to all people, to properly care for her family and her mother and usually short-changing herself in the process; the tendency to keep emotions locked inside, fearful that I’ll upset someone or hurt their feelings. But although I clearly identified with Laura, I was also annoyed with her. Couldn’t she see how her obsession with her parents past was intruding upon her own relationship with her husband, Christian, and with her ability to create a satisfying family life of her own?
Sea Escape (like Life Without Summer) is written from alternating viewpoints, traveling back in time so
that Helen may tell her story “in her own words.” Griffin has mastered this device, and it worked quite well in both her novels. By slowly revealing to the reader each woman’s secrets, it allows us to understand the motives behind their actions and emotions. Both novels were compelling reading, especially if you’re interested in the psychological aspects of family dynamics and relationships.
Sea Escape has been chosen by Entertainment Weekly Magazine as one of their “must -read” books this summer, and was also chosen as an Indie Next List Notable pick.
GIVEAWAY: I’m pleased to offer a copy of Sea Escape, as well as Life Without Summer to a Bookstack reader. Just leave a comment on this post. Recipient will be chosen at random on July 15, 2010.
Sea Escape and Life Without Summer were made available to me through TLC Tours.