February 21, 2009
The Laws of Harmony
The Laws of Harmony by Judith Ryan Hendricks
Copyright 2009 Harper
Finished on 2/5/09
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!!)
In 1989 Sunny Cooper escaped to Albuquerque. Fourteen years later she's still there, struggling to make a living, to shore up her floundering relationship, and to forget her childhood on a commune, where a freak accident killed her younger sister, Mari.
Just when the "normal" life Sunny craves appears to be within reach, another accident—the sudden death of her fiance, Michael, and revelations that their relationship was not what it seemed—will turn her world upside down. Once again Sunny escapes, this time to the town of Harmony on San Miguel Island. But a surprising discovery sparks an emotional encounter with her estranged mother and forces both women to reexamine the truth of their memories. Only by making peace with the past can Sunny finally step out of its shadow and into a new life.
Mary Doria Russell. Marisa de los Santos. Jeanne Ray. Rosamunde Pilcher. Barbara Kingsolver. Patricia Gaffney. Elizabeth Berg. Lorna Landvik. Jodi Picoult. What do these authors have in common with Judith Ryan Hendricks? Well, they're my favorite female authors and I've read nearly every single book they've written, most of which line the bookcases in my home. I've met a couple in person, have a few signed copies of their early novels, and have recently received ARCs of their latest works, accompanied by warm and chatty emails. These are the authors that bring great pleasure to my reading experience; the ones who thrill me when I learn they've written a new book; the ones I rave about to friends and customers; the ones who don't seem to write fast enough for me! ;)
I discovered Judith Ryan Hendricks several years ago when I happened upon her debut novel, Bread Alone. I don't recall anyone recommending the book to me, so I must've fallen for the cover art and blurb. I thoroughly enjoyed the book—so much so that I re-read it prior to reading the sequel (The Baker's Apprentice). I also loved Hendricks' stand-alone, Isabel's Daughter, and was absolutely thrilled to learn she had written a fourth book.
Hendricks sets her stories in some of my favorite locations (the Pacific Northwest) and places I'd love to visit (Santa Fe). She has also made mention of two small beach communities in Southern California (Del Mar and Leucadia), both of which are towns I've lived in. In addition to the great settings, Hendricks' culinary details are also of great appeal to this reader. I discovered and sampled a wonderful recipe for homemade bread in Bread Alone and found my mouth watering as I read the description of several baked items in The Laws of Harmony. Oh, how I wish she had included a recipe for her blackberry brownies!
After spending a couple of weeks cruising the San Juan Islands, I find myself drawn to books describing the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Bread Alone and The Baker's Apprentice take place in Seattle, but this latest novel takes the reader out of the city and into a friendly community very much like those I encountered in the summer of 2007. I was immediately drawn into Sunny's life, eager to see what awaits her in Harmony on San Miguel Island. This location reminded me so strongly of Friday Harbor, that I found myself wondering if it was the basis for Hendricks' fictional community. Could her Ale House be the same as the similarly-named pub on the corner of Front Street (same street name!) in Friday Harbor? It really doesn't matter one way or another; I loved living vicariously through the characters' lives, reminded of my own experiences in the years I've visited that particular area. I could easily envision Sunny catching a ferry out of Seattle, serving customers an icy cold beer in the Ale House, hanging out with friends in a small independent bookstore, buying fresh seafood at the local fish market, and learning to ride a motorcycle on the windy country roads outside of town. At times, I found myself wishing to trade places with Sunny!
On ferry travel...
Everybody else rushes ahead, apparently knowing exactly where they want to sit. I follow the smell to the cafe, get myself a greasy bacon-and-egg sandwich and take it to an empty seat up front. The boat shudders with the exertions of the big engines as the pilings on either side of us begin to slide away and the window in front of me becomes a giant movie screen of water and sky.
All around me people eat and talk, read newspapers and kiss, play cards and pound on their laptops, oblivious to the gentle pitch of the boat and to the fantasy world just outside the windows—rippling blue-green water, rocky islands upholstered in conifers, shreds of mist. Each time I start to eat, there's something that distracts me, makes me pause with the sandwich halfway to my mouth—a perfect, toylike red lighthouse or a log cabin tucked into a secluded cove, or the white ellipse of a boat lying at anchor on a glassy bay. I star transfixed, finally forgetting about the sandwich.
I loved reading the detailed passage in which Sunny learns how to ride a small motorcycle for the very first time. My husband has come to own a few motorcycles in recent years and I only just recently rode as a passenger for the first time a little over a year ago. I have my own helmet and Kevlar-padded jacket, but I don't own a bike, nor have I ever ridden alone. And I wouldn't say that after reading the half dozen pages describing how to ride a motorcycle, I'm capable of hopping on a bike and riding off into the sunset. However, I do feel like I have a better understanding of how the clutch, throttle, shifter and brakes work on a motorcycle. As Sunny says, it's so illogical!
On riding a motorcycle - alone - for the first time...
"Feet up!" he yells, and the bike magically balances itself. It feels like flying. I hear myself laughing inside the helmet, like a little kid with the training wheels off for the first time. Suddenly I understand the thrill of this, and then almost as suddenly I see the driveway fast approaching. Shit! How do I brake? My mind's gone blank.
I love discovering new music, so I'm especially happy when an author incorporates real music into a narrative. Hendricks' main character listens to a CD entitled Beyond the Missouri Sky (Short Stories), a Charlie Haden/Pat Metheny collaboration. It's a simple arrangement combining the music of an accoustic guitar and bass into soothing pieces. I've listened to the sample tracks and have decided I need to own this album.
After all this gushing, I do have one complaint. Even with 478 pages, this book simply wasn't long enough! As I turned that final page, I was sorry to see Sunny's story come to an end. While there weren't any holes in the plot, I felt there was more to reveal and I hope we haven't read the last of Sunny and her life on San Miguel Island. Either way, you can bet that The Laws of Harmony will be one of my favorite recommendations and that I'll eagerly await any news of a fifth book in the coming years!