Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: Safe Within by Jean Reynolds Page

Carson is dying of pancreatic cancer when he asks his wife Elaine to take him back to the small North Carolina town they both grew up in and to the quirky treehouse on the lake that is Elaine's family's home. Going home transports them back into the small community with its gossip and undercurrents. It means Elaine and Mick, Carson and Elaine's adult son, will have to face Carson's mother Greta, nearly blind but still holding a grudge against them, and that the past will surround them every step of the way at a time when they most need love and compassion.

Elaine and Mick haven't spoken to Greta in more than twenty years. The source of the rift is that Greta has never accepted Mick, believing, despite Carson's assurances to the contrary, that Mick is not Carson's son. Although her animosity towards this stubborn old woman hasn't waned, in the wake of her beloved Carson's death, Elaine tries to extend an olive branch to Greta, knowing that it is what Carson would have wanted. After all, she and Mick are all that remain of Greta's family. The one thing that she draws the line at though, is explaining the truth surrounding the rumors over Mick's paternity, insisting that that information was between she and Carson and not for public consumption. And although she wants to do the right thing by her mother-in-law, Elaine is still prickly, defensive, and struggling with forgiveness.

As Elaine is trying to negotiate a tentative truce with her mother-in-law, Mick is feeling rudderless and completely adrift. He's met a girl who used to idolize him when she was small but she's 18 and beautiful and as interested in him as ever now. As he wonders if he can pursue something with her, rumors from the past about an old girlfriend, Kayla, rise up to challenge him. Kayla, who was of mixed race and whose family was extremely poor, was his first great love but also the girl who made him face the worst of himself. Although she is long dead in a car accident, he is still coming to terms with the hurt he caused her and the reality of who he was then. That her sweet six year old little brother might in actual fact be her son instead of her brother has sent him reeling, questions about Kyle's paternity and his responsibilities adding to his uncertainty about his life and future.

Greta, mother-in-law and grandmother, so certain of her convictions, is fighting battles on many fronts. She is in a dispute with her neighbor over her land. He wants it so he can expand his alpaca operation and she has no desire to sell, not even entertaining a single thought for his continued offers. She is perfectly content living with her long-time friend Mattie, who is a sort of housekeeper, companion, and lately Greta's eyes as well. Having Mattie's family living in the guest homes out back means that Greta always has company and she doesn't have to look too closely at her determination to shun her daughter-in-law and only grandson. But then Mattie has a stroke and her family moves to town, and although they are concerned about Greta, Mattie is their more pressing concern, forcing Greta to entertain the notion of relying on Elaine and Mick.

Flipping between the past and the present, the narrative fills in Elaine and Carson's relationship and marriage, the foundation of the so many loving and now much mourned years, fleshing out Carson in a way that would only be possible through other characters' views if the entire novel took place after his death. Elaine, Mick, and Greta, as main characters are all sunk in their own grief but their faltering attempts to right their worlds in the wake of Carson's loss are realistic and human. They are each multi-faceted and their relationships with each other are complicated by history and feeling. The plot is intricate and Page weaves the many threads together deftly. Her writing is true, beautiful, and detailed and she has captured masterfully the deep ache of grief as it stands alongside continued living. Having tapped into a small town setting, she has placed her characters at the mercy of the secrets and gossip that have eaten at the edges of their lives for so many years. But with the whimsical treehouse above the lake, she has also given these characters a nest of imagination and uniqueness in which to find safety, forgiveness, and the ability to move forward with hope. Engrossing and frequently humorous, this compassionate look at living after a loved one's death amidst the tangle that family can be is a wonderful read.

For more information about Jean Reynolds Page and the book visit her website or her Facebook page. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. This just got pinned to my tbr board

  2. Ooh, this sounds wonderful! Glad you enjoyed it. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.


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