Having read a number of books by Luanne Rice, beginning with Cloud Nine (1999), I was expecting more than was delivered. I found this to be by far the darkest book I have read by Ms. Rice, as well as disappointingly unbelievable, both in characterization and plot. The story is that of two sisters, Clare and Anne, who grew up very close, presumably as they were mostly shut out of their parents' lives during their childhood. Anne, the older sister, marries Frederik, a controlling, narcissistic European glassblower who effectively removes her from the lives of her family, both physically and emotionally. Frederik is the personification of evil, yet we are given no insight as to the reason. No insight into the character, really. Clare remains devoted to Anne, despite not being able to see her or her two children for several years, and one day she takes it upon herself to visit. On seeing that Anne is obviously an abused wife, Clare convinces her to leave Frederik, but alas, it is at this point that, predictably, Frederik returns home and immediately upon hearing Anne agree to go away with Clare, he begins choking Anne. Clare grabs a burning log from the fireplace and hits Frederik in the face with it to get him away from Anne, but once the police arrive, Anne agrees with her husband that Clare intended to murder Frederik and thus the stage is set ... Clare goes to prison while Anne, Frederik and the children (who have the unlikely names of Gilly and Grit) move to Europe, completing the separation of the sisters. Note that this is not a spoiler, as all this takes place during the first few pages of the book.
Sometimes we need to be disturbed, shaken out of our own peaceful, secure lives and made to look around us in order to realize that there is despair and hopelessness in the world. And this book is certainly disturbing, but my two main complaints are that it is fairly unrealistic and that despair seems to be the main theme. At one point, it is implied that the theme is redemption, which is the opposite of despair, but I failed to see where redemption came into play. I will not go into detail, as I don't like to write spoilers into my reviews, but suffice it to say that what little happiness is found in these character's lives is similar to what they say about one-horse towns: don't blink or you'll miss it.
Aside from my complaints about the sense of doom, anger and evil that comprise the plot, I was also disappointed in the development of the characters. None seemed real to me, and although Clare and Grit are sympathetic characters, I was not able to connect to them as I would have liked. The character of Anne vacillated between pitiable, despicable and just plain crazy, while the character of Frederik was consistently evil, but as mentioned above, with no insight as to the roots of his persona. Had the characters been more three-dimensional, it might have saved this book despite the deficiencies in plot. I rarely read a book that I regret having read, though some are certainly better than others, but I must say I wish I had not wasted the time on this one, as it left me feeling disturbed and angry. That said, I have enjoyed other books by this author and will not let my disappointment in this book turn me away from reading more by her.