Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Review: The Runaway Wife by Elizabeth Birkelund

Sometimes a person just wants to disappear. When life isn't going your way, slipping off for some solitude, to regroup, to be alone, sounds wonderful. I imagine this is especially true if life's unpleasantness is playing out in the press or public. But escaping is not the end of it, because sooner or later someone is going to want you to come home, before dinner, before your disappearance has a bigger impact than the original issue, before a predicted snow storm blows in in the Alps. In Elizabeth Birkelund's graceful, short novel The Runaway Wife, this last situation is very much the case.

American Jim Olsen is hiking in the Swiss Alps with a friend. He's taking a brief vacation between jobs (he lost his prestigious job but has another less prestigious one lined up) and trying to come to terms with his ex-fiancee finding someone else. Clearly life isn't going very well for him, his earnest loyalty isn't serving him well at all. When he and his friend make it to an Alpine hutte, they are joined by a trio of beautiful sisters. Named for the muses, Clio, Thalia, and Helene have been trying to find their mother, Calliope, who disappeared into the Alps after her philandering husband, a French politician running for President, was photographed leaving the hospital where he was visiting his mistress and new baby daughter. Jim finds the trio enchanting and finds himself, despite his novice hiking abilities, agreeing to take up the search for Calliope and to return her safely to her daughters before the projected bad weather arrives.

As Jim heads into the mountains looking for Calliope, he has the chance to reflect on his own life, the things he's lost, and what those losses ultimately mean to him. As helicopters sent by Calliope's husband continue to scour the mountains looking for any trace of her, he also has a large, loud, and obvious reminder that it is incredibly hard to permanently escape; your life and your past are always waiting for you. Although Calliope isn't necessarily keen to be found, she accepts Jim's presence in her idyllic mountain hideaway, eventually telling him about her own need for escape and why she is so determined to elude her husband's men. Jim finds Calliope free-spirited and as enchanting as her daughters, two of whom he encounters in his dreams nightly. He is determined to carry out his rescue mission and return to the life he's planned for himself despite growing misgivings. Time is running out on making any of this happen before the predicted snow falls as Jim's adventure becomes a race against time.

Birkelund's writing about the Alps is beautiful and evocative. She has set up the conflict between self-determination and being subsumed under others' expectations simply and clearly. That this dichotomy plays out in more characters' lives than just Jim's and Calliope's is quite well done. The novel is magical in feel but just as elusive and hard to pin down as Calliope is. Jim's meeting with the three sisters feels fated but his immediate and continuing connection to them is a little underdeveloped. The ending is uncertain but still feels right. This brief novel has a very French aesthetic to it and its air of unreality or other-worldliness will put off some readers but its insight into determining your own life is one worth visiting.

For more information about Elizabeth Birkelund, check out her web page or like her Facebook page. Check out the book's Good Reads 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 comment:

  1. I got a glimpse of the Alps from a plane years ago and have always wanted to go back and see them in person. Maybe this book will help tide me over until I get that opportunity!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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