Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Review: The One True Ocean by Sarah Beth Martin

Told in alternating chapters in the voice of mother Renee and daughter Jenna, this is the story of long buried family secrets and their eventual discovery. Opening in the aftermath of Jenna's young husband's death in a car accident, the narrative unwinds into two seperate threads as Jenna tries to cope with her loss. The first narrative path shows her life as it pushes forward despite grief, as she chooses to move back to Maine to the house she remembers vividly from her childhood and where she once lived with the long-dead beloved aunt she always felt a special kinship towards. The second thread is also triggered by her move as it goes back to the summer that her mother was 14 and 15, the summer that Renee got pregnant with Jenna. Jenna never knew who her father was, having only a name and a very slim tale told by her mother about the man who seduced and left a young girl pregnant. But by moving back to Maine, Jenna uncovers the story not only of her father, but of her aunt's inexplicable suicide even as she forges new, fragile bonds with her mother.

The theme of loss and connection, love and grief arch over the entire narrative but they are handled without resorting to cliche or heavy-handed drama. The depth of emotion of the characters feels very authentic and while each revelation about the past may not come as a surprise, it all fits without stretching credibility. On the other hand, there are one or two plot points that do stretch credibility a bit too far. Chief among these are the wallpapered bits of letters that Jenna finds in her mother's old room in her aunt's house. Having the house, its walls, and its hiding spots still contain all the keys to the long hidden secret of Jenna's paternity, as if people still just paper over any previous wallpaper is a bit disingenuous, especially as the building had gone through multiple owners. But if you forgive minor lapses like this, the rest of the novel was almost mesmerizing. I'd be curious to see what else Martin has written.

1 comment:

  1. I would love to read "One True Ocean." Good review.


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