Friday, August 20, 2010

Review: Commuters

Summary: At seventy-eight, Winnie Easton has finally found love again with Jerry Trevis, a wealthy Chicago businessman who has moved to the small, upstate town of Hartfield, New York, to begin his life anew. But their decision to buy one of the town's biggest houses ignites anger and skepticism—as children and grandchildren take drastic actions to secure their own futures and endangered inheritances. With so much riding on Jerry's wealth, a decline in his physical health forces hard decisions on the family, renewing old loyalties while creating surprising alliances.

A powerfully moving novel told from alternating perspectives, Commuters is an intensely human story of lives profoundly changed by the repercussions of one marriage, and by the complex intertwining of love, money, and family.-- Harper Perennial

A few months ago, I attended ALA in Washington, DC. I had a great time and learned about some terrific new books; however, one of my highlights was visiting (and re-visiting) the Harper Collins booth. Jennifer (aka Book Club Girl) had saved a book for me that I was dying to read and she also handed me this one -- COMMUTERS by Emily Gray Tedrowe. She told me it was "so good" and she definitely wasn't lying! I absolutely loved this novel about families, love and money.

The funny thing about COMMUTERS is that I enjoyed it while I was reading it and knew it was a good book. However, it wasn't until a few days after I finished it that I realized just how much I liked it. I kept thinking about the characters and their actions and I honestly couldn't get them out of my mind. The book just kept getting better and better to me. I'm of the camp that says if a book sticks with you that long, then it's something special.

To me, COMMUTERS is at its soul a book about family dynamics. And, in the case of the family in COMMMUTERS, it's a family with some messed up dynamics! Now I love me a good book about dysfunctional families, and COMMUTERS does not disappoint. When Winnie (a mother and grandmother) decided to remarry a very wealthy man, her family (as well as her husband's family) is thrown into a major tizzy. Besides the normal difficulties with blending families, there are issues about marriage, elderly care, senility, money, etc. which many people will relate to with their own families. Sometimes I wonder if weddings and funerals don't bring out the worst in people.

COMMUTERS follows these characters throughout the course of a year. I really felt as if I got to know the three main characters (Winnie, Rachel and Avery), and I found myself liking all three of them. However, that doesn't mean that I didn't get upset with each and every one of them. All three had some inherent issues that they had to work through in this novel, and I especially liked watching how each of them "healed" within the year. I also enjoyed seeing how their interactions with each other became much deeper and more honest.

One thing that I absolutely loved about this book were all of the symbols that I discovered while reading it. Maybe I was reading too much into this novel, but I loved what Winnie's tree and the building of the pool symbolized. In addition, I thought food (and some very yummy sounding food at that) had a huge role in this story. I also found some other symbols (albeit to a lesser degree) throughout the story. Other readers might think I'm crazy for all this talk, but I swear I could just talk about the various symbols in this story for hours!

I was extremely impressed with Ms. Tedrowe's writing style, and I actually found it hard to believe that this was her debut novel. COMMUTERS just seemed so mature (if that makes any sense.) I loved Ms. Tedrowe's prose and I thought her characters were very well developed and interesting too. I also appreciated how she decided to tell this story -- through alternating chapters between each of three characters. What I found extremely interesting is that although each chapter was about a specific character, they were written in third person. While I admit that I usually prefer getting to know characters when their stories are written in their own voices, I actually thought the third person narrative was a very effective way to tell this story. I liked that I was getting a glimpse into their lives through a unbiased narrator. And, I thought this "voyeur feeling" that I had was reflected equally well on the front cover!

A few weeks ago, Book Club Girl (well...actually Erica) hosted a fabulous Blogtalk Radio Show with the author. As much as I enjoyed COMMUTERS, I liked it even more after this show. I'm a little embarrassed to say that I monopolized the chat room asking Ms. Tedrowe questions about her novel. I thought the author was extremely gracious and I absolutely loved her! I can honestly say that COMMUTERS is one of those books that I could have talked about for hours, and I'd just love to have the chance to sit down with a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine) and talk to Ms. Tedrowe about her characters!

Of course, I think COMMUTERS would make a fantastic book club selection. And if I were hosting the meeting, I'd definitely try to get a chat with the author! This book has just stuck with me from the get go and I'd love to see if others have the same reaction to it. There is a reading guide available, but unfortunately, it's not part of the book. (Although there is a fabulous P.S. Insights, Interviews & More section that is in the back of the book!) Some of the topics your group might want to discuss include the meaning of the title, the role of food in this book, family, love, wealth, tragedy, parent-child relationships, aging, addiction, greed, and grief.

If you are a fan of novels about dysfunctional families (like I am), then I highly recommend COMMUTERS!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this book.

14 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I haven't had a chance to read this one yet, but between your review and the BTR show, I am really excited about it!

Mary said...

So glad to see your review. I bought it a few weeks ago and hope to read it in September. Really looking forward to it after reading your thoughts.

Kristin said...

I have seen this book around a lot lately and after reading your review, it is definitely going on my tbr list.

Beth Hoffman said...

This sounds terrific. I'll add it to my list!

S. Krishna said...

I definitely want to get to this one. Thanks for the review!

Erica B said...

I had a similar experience--I read it and enjoyed it, and then found myself thinking about it again and again. Re-reading it for the show was a great experience.

Sandy Nawrot said...

It definitely isn't every book that hangs around in your head after you've finished. Sarah Waters does that to me. I don't mind family dysfunction as long as it doesn't drag me down. AFter all, don't we all have a little bit of that in all of our families?

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm envious that you were able to identify symbolism in a book - I rarely am!!!

Emily said...

Hi, Julie P.! I just wanted to thank you for such a full, in-depth, and extremely kind review of my novel. Hearing from readers about their experience of Commuters has been a real highlight of publishing my book. Many thanks for all your thoughts here - and for the nice words from all your commenters!

happy reading, all -

Emily

Darlene said...

I am so glad to see that you loved this novel. I had seen it around a while back and was curious about it. I may just have to give it a read now!

Alice M. said...

Hi Julie,

What an awesome review! I love that you keyed into resonance factor and agree completely -- Winnie/Rachel/Avery practically talk themselves off the page and into your life. And, yes, the writing floored me too! Thank you for getting the word out about Emily's wonderful novel!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I haven't yet picked up a copy of COMMUTERS, but it's on my list! I like that the book stayed with you ... I agree that there are some books I enjoy reading (but can't recall details after a week or so ... pure entertainment); my faves are the novels like this one, that keep hitting me long after I've read them.

Beth F said...

I am so glad you loved this!

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

Ok, this one sounds terrific too.