February 25, 2006

These Granite Islands

These Granite Islands by Sarah Stonich
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 2/9/06
Rating: A (9/10 Terrific!)

We all have favorite authors, ones that with baited breath we wait for their next release, succumbing to the hardcover price or pestering our librarians to quickly order the title, begging them to place our names at the top of the waiting-list. These are the authors whose collections of books take up entire shelves at Barnes & Noble and Borders. Even non-readers are vaguely familiar with their names: Janet Evanovich, Stephen King, Elizabeth Berg, Anita Shreve and Dean Koontz.

There’s nothing wrong with having favorites, but every now and then it’s nice to discover a new, relatively unknown author. It’s especially nice when the debut novel turns out to be such a gem that even before finishing the last sentence, you’re frantically searching Amazon for more titles you can get your hands on. This is exactly what happened to me earlier this month while I was perusing my shelves (yes, I have shelves and shelves of unread books – kind like having my own personal bookstore – I even have coffee & Biscotti) and glanced at a title, vaguely recalling the high praise from a fellow book-lover when I originally mentioned that I’d acquired the book. These Granite Islands has been on my shelf for at least two years, and I’m glad I finally got around to giving it a read. Having just finished Isabel’s Daughter, I was a little concerned that the odds of two great books, back-to-back, would be pretty slim. I shouldn’t have worried. Sarah Stonich delivers a great story and I was almost instantly transported back to the summer of 1936. While it took just a little more than a chapter to grasp the structure of the narrative, it wasn’t long before the transitions smoothed out, alternating between Isobel’s (yep, another Isobel) past and present as she reminisced about her life as a young wife and mother and the new friendship that brings tragedy and mystery to the small mining town of Cypress, Minnesota. Isobel’s adult son, who sits quietly alongside her hospital bed, listening as she recounts the details of that strange summer, slowly discovering that the memories he had and held to be true were only a young boy’s interpretation of what actually took place.

I didn’t expect such a page-turner, but I finished in less than two days. As the final pages drew near, I found myself slowing down, lingering over each sentence, not wanting to leave the characters or the lakeside community. Stonich casts a spell with her flair for rich detail and I particularly enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the two friends working side by side, as they transformed a portion of Victor’s (Isobel’s husband) tailor shop into a millinery, bringing to mind the details I so loved in Jennifer Donnelly’s The Tea Rose (another fine example of an exquisite novel by a fairly unknown author).

Stonich has written a second novel entitled The Ice Chorus and I’ve just now added that to my ever-growing Amazon wish list (which also serves as my library list). I own so many other books I should read first, but somehow I can’t let another two years pass before reading more by this author. She deserves to join the ranks of Anita Shreve, Anne Tyler and Alice Hoffman.

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