Friday, May 24, 2019

Review: The Desert Sky Before Us by Anne Valente

We drive a lot in this family. 16 hours or so each way every summer. We don't head west; we head north. But the destination is almost unimportant. The monotony, the quiet time inside your own head, the conversation with fellow passengers not face to face but side by side as the miles unspool under the tires their own importance. There is something sacred, something hypnotic in long drives. How much more would it be if there were wounds to heal, futures to try to find, and a past to reconcile like there is in Anne Valente's hypnotic new novel, The Desert Sky Before Us?

Rhiannon and Billie are sisters whose paleontologist mother has recently died. Only Rhiannon could attend her funeral because Billie was in prison, finishing a 6 year sentence for setting the library she worked in on fire. Knowing she was dying, their mother arranged for a second funeral so that Billie could attend, one far from their Illinois home, at the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in Utah where Margaret Hurst spent the bulk of her professional career. All over the world, planes have been falling out of the sky, likely because of climate change, and knowing this, she devised a long driving road trip for her daughters, giving them the gift of time together to overcome their estrangement, to learn more about who she was, and to look into themselves to discover who they once were, who they are now, and who they want to be. Rhiannon was once a promising race car driver but now sells textbooks. Her long term relationship with her girlfriend has fallen apart and she is completely emotionally shut off, as she has been for so long. Billie is free of prison but not of the past, the abuse she suffered at the hands of her boyfriend, the loss of the red tailed hawk she once trained, and she is bottled up with rage and hurt. Spending time in a car with her older sister, traveling to each point of their mother's planned journey will test them both.

Both Rhiannon and Billie are lost characters. Each of them used to have a passion and a purpose but they've both lost them and it remains to be seen if their late mother can help them recover either. They are damaged in their own ways, poor communicators, and so used to stifling their emotions that cracking open and laying themselves bare will be the hardest part of their journey, far harder than the multiple days they'll spend crisscrossing the West toward the final memorial site for their mother. There are no big plot climaxes here but there is a humming background tension threading through an emotional exploration. There is a starkness to the land and landscape the women are driving through, but beauty and infinity too, mirroring their hearts as they uncover themselves within the context of their relationship to each other and to their family, reduced as it may now be, as a whole. The fossils of their mother's career, the artifacts from her life that she left them to find, can only tell them so much, still holding secrets and uncertainties, perhaps to be uncovered one day, perhaps not. This is beautifully written, a warning, haunting and aching. Readers who prize tender character development and who wonder at the slow, painful, messy revelation of real relationship and understanding will find much to appreciate here.

For more information about Anne Valente and the book, check our her author website, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and publisher Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this books for review.

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait to read this! I just added it to my shopping list so I can read it on my upcoming road trip! Thank you for being on this tour! Sara @ TLC Book Tours


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