"Mother, you had me, but I didn't have you.
I wanted you but you didn't want me,
So I got to tell you, Goodbye, goodbye." -- John Lennon, 1970
Kristin Hannah, a gifted chick lit author (and I LOVE chick lit) has done it again. She has written a compelling story, set in Washington State and created a cast of memorable and plausible characters. In short, Kristin Hannah is a genius. It's as simple as that.
The story opens in 2001, when sisters Nina, (b. 1963) and Meredith (b. 1960) are facing major life changes. Nina, a photojournalist is in Africa doing a photo shoot while Meredith remains near the home she grew up. She, her husband Jeff and two daughters Jillian, 19 and in med school and Maddie, 17 all pitch in to help Meredith's parents. Her father was at the end of his life when the story opens and the sisters have a poor relationship with their mother. Meredith traces the turning point in their bad relationship to an incident involving a play she and Nina put on in 1972 when they were 12 and 9 respectively. At that point, Meredith vows that she will never listen to another fairy tale their mother tells EVER again.
"Children, don't do what I have done, I couldn't walk and I tried to run.
So I got to tell you, Goodbye, goodbye. Mama don't go, Daddy come home." -- John Lennon, 1970 from "Mother"
This story is far deeper than the snow, which is used metaphorically as well as realistically throughout the story. Nina and Meredith's mother is from Russia and the wonderful references to Russian food and culture make for a culturally sharing experience.
The sisters' father eventually dies, but after he extracts a promise from his daughters to get their mother to tell one particular story in toto. They promise, but keeping it is what makes up for a large part of the story. They have their work cut out for them.
Meredith is the efficient, take charge personality, a quality that was probably inculcated in her from an early age as being the older sister. Nina, having written getting love from their mother as a lost cause embarks upon a successful career that requires her to travel for extensive periods of time. She has a loving boyfriend who is good to her and good for her, as Meredith's husband Jeff is a good man.
The sisters travel in different orbits - Meredith as trying to do everything she can for her widowed mother, even making some very difficult decisions. Nina, globe-trotting and rising in her career only to hit some rough spots when their father died returns to the family homestead to make equally difficult, yet very different decisions.
Meredith and Nina examine their approaches to adult relationships and both wonder why their father Evan married their mother Anya. They both had warm, loving relationships with their father (the apple orchard is a symbol of fruitful love as they have an apple orchard on the family property) and the snow is a metaphor for their mother, whom the girls understandably feel is cold and distant as an Arctic tundra. Her blue eyes, unlike those of a Siberian husky, radiate coldness as opposed to a loving, playful side. Anya is very much like an Arctic tundra.
Both sisters have more in common than they realized. Meredith's husband feels rebuffed by Meredith and I just loved it when he challenged her by saying he was on her "to do list" because she appeared to approach everything in life as a challenge to be checked off. Nina, whose boyfriend Danny is a very loving man wants her to make a commitment to him, yet she teeters on the precipice of doing just that.
knows why Evan married Anya, nor why Anya seems to hate them.
The girls' father knows a very different Anya and a story that is far deeper and one that travels much futher than either daughter can imagine. A loving, tolerant man, Evan understands Anya and spent his life trying to encourage the girls to do likewise, depsite her aloof demeanor. The promise he extracts from his daughters does change the world and the tundra starts to thaw....
"Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting.
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear.
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I say it's all righ, it's all right." -- George Harrison, 1969
Anya's story is the foundation on which the story eventually rests. Without giving anything away, let's just say this novel is one that is well worth the trek through the tundra and well worth every page. The story the girls finally hear has a profoundly meteoric impact on their lives and their view of the world. It closes with an epilogue of the characters in 2010, which leaves readers with a sense of fullness and satisfaction. John Lennon's classic "Mother" and also the George Harrison classic "Here Comes the Sun" underscore this book.
This is truly an outstanding novel about relationships and how secrets divide and are usually uncovered over time. What makes this book special is the development of the characters; their compelling story and the writing itself. I highly recommend this book.