Saturday, August 2, 2014

Review: The From-Aways by C. J. Hauser

I try to put a lot of thought into the books I choose for my summer book club to read and discuss. After all, the group is made up of smart and thoughtful women so when I find a book that not only seems interesting but potentially addresses an issue that is close to our own experiences as summer people in a small waterfront town, I am eager to add it to our list. C. J. Hauser's novel The From-Aways, although set in coastal Maine instead of the Great Lakes Midwest, seemed to fit the bill almost perfectly. The book turned out to be as much, if not more so, an examination of relationships and the truths and negotiations within those relationships as it is a conflict between locals and wealthy summer folk buying up beachfront property and changing the tenor of the town though, a bit different than I had wanted or expected.

Leah is an outsider new to the small lobster fishing town of Menamon. She met and married her husband Henry in New York City but she was mesmerized by his romantic tales of growing up in the tightly knit community of Menamon. So as soon as it was feasible, she convinced him to move back to the idyllic town of his childhood. Only that idyll might never have been real. Quinn is the other newcomer to town, there looking for her father, a quasi-famous folk singer who abandoned her and her mother when she was just an infant. She's really only there to find Carter because it was her mother's dying wish that she do so. Leah and Quinn meet each other in the offices of the town's only newspaper where Leah is hoping to resume her journalist's career and Quinn is working as the only reporter. The two of them become friends and partners, especially when the townspeople wake to the implications of all the new development going on around them.

Leah desperately wants to be accepted by the locals, even if it means lining up on opposite sides of the development issue from her new husband. Quinn is less interested in belonging to the town, especially if it means embracing something that her father is heading, but her roommate and girlfriend Rosie has strong opinions and Quinn wants to support her. As Leah and Quinn start researching the background, they come up with some information that, if exposed, will certainly help the locals' protest and perhaps keep the privately owned park and carousel available to everyone but it could cost Leah her marriage as surely as it will cost Henry's job.

The grassroots protest backgrounds Leah and Henry's relationship. Henry is one of the town's own but he doesn't have the idealized and romanticized view of the past that Leah has built up in her mind. He asks her to consider whether change can really be inherently bad as she seems to have decided and cautions her that change of one sort or another is guaranteed to happen no matter what. But bigger than their divide over the development of the town, is their inability to understand each other. They don't communicate and so they can't compromise or be open and truthful enough about what is driving each of them to have a mature dialogue.

The characters in this novel are all desperately young and shockingly immature. They are very self-focused, even in their relationships, and unable to make measured decisions. Instead, there's a lot of secrecy and thoughtlessness that made it hard to like the characters much. When Leah doesn't call her husband to tell him she's not coming home that night, she seems surprised that he would be upset and worried about her the next morning; she apologizes and promptly does the same thing again.  Henry himself is barely fleshed out as a character so his continued forgiveness of Leah is not understandable at all.  The conceit of Leah and Quinn as Woodward and Bernstein seemed almost like a game, children playing at being adults, rather than a legitimate comparison as they go haphazardly investigating the back room deals that led to the growing mega mansion dominating the shoreline. And while Quinn and Rosie's relationship is new and fragile and important to the storyline over all, the detailed sex scene between them really added nothing to the plot and could have been left out.

The chapters alternate between Leah and Quinn's points of view and while their voices start out as very different, they start to take on a few too many similarities. Hauser has done a good job capturing small town Maine, the challenges to remain vital, and the population of the old timers who live there. The frustrations and dilemmas of a place that is going to have to blend tourism and its fishing past in order to survive are interesting for sure but ultimately the characters here didn't hold their own in the story.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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