Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review: The First Warm Evening of the Year by Jamie Saul

When his old college friend Laura, with whom he'd long since lost touch, dies of cancer, she names New York City voice actor Geoffrey as executor of her will. He is a little surprised but accepts the job, just as Laura had suspected he would, having remembered him as loyal and dependable. So he travels up to Laura's small childhood home town, the place she settled in as the high school music teacher after her husband and partner in their renowned jazz group died and left her a young widow. And in small Shady Grove, Geoffrey comes face to face with Laura's dear friend Marian, another young widow still mourning the accidental death of her husband a decade before and the one woman who has the potential to change Geoffrey's easy, emotionally remote existence.

Goeffrey's life is very orderly and settled. He takes enough voice over work to be financially secure. He's in a long term but emotionally distant relationship with Rita, a woman who makes no demands of him and who enjoys their convenient and detached situation as much as he does. He goes out with friends but seems to have no emotionally fulfilling relationships with the possible exception of his psychoanalyst brother Alex. He's contented in this life until he meets Marian and looks deep within himself to see that in fact he does want a life of connection and love. He promptly breaks off with Rita and sets out to convince Marian that their immediate attraction and ease means that they should both risk change.

Just as Geoffrey is initially set in his life, Marian is equally set in hers. She is also in a relationship that doesn't ask her to engage her emotions and allows her to continue to live as Buddy's widow, stagnant in her loss rather than willing to try opening up and moving forward. She owns a nursery and maintains many of the gardens that she and Buddy built together in their landscape design firm. She lives in the home they built and drives Buddy's truck. His larger than life presence, even after death, is the comfortable wrap and barrier around her heart. The loss of Buddy and her happy marriage was devastating and resulted in not only her continued guilt over the circumstances of his death but to an emotional paralysis she has never tried to shake off. It is this closed off inertia that Geoffrey will have to overcome to reach the Marian he wants.

Both Geoffrey and Marian have to do a lot of soul searching as they look to see exactly what shape they want their lives to take. Geoffrey in particular needs to understand who he is and just who Marian is too, trying to understand her marriage and relationship with Buddy and how they made her the woman she is now. He also has to face the decisions he made in the past, in particular the decisions he has made in regards to Simon, Laura's lost and floundering younger brother, and what those decisions say about him as well as how they might have formed others as well.

The novel is a very slow introspective tale with echoes of therapy and the search for self-realization. It is very psychological and philosophical and because of this can seem as emotionally remote as the characters it portrays. With all the obsessive talking about feeling and relationship and love, it is still hard to pinpoint why Geoffrey and Marian fall for each other. He enjoys her uninhibited laugh and feels comfortable in her presence but there's no indication of what Marian finds so magnetic about him that despite wanting desperately to close herself off from him she cannot. There is a similar undefinable, langorous magnetism about the novel as a whole. A deeply examined novel filled with soul-searching scrutiny, the characters' initial lack of connection with life carried through the novel far longer than it should have, making it more difficult for the reader to develop a connection with them either. Those looking for a novel about relationship that delves deeper and questions far more intensely than a typical love story will find their something different here.

For more information about Jamie Saul and the book check out his 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.


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