“A Bend in the Willow,” by Susan Clayton-Goldner

In 1965, Robin Lee Carter ran away from a life of tragedy and abuse, and reinvented herself as Catherine Henry. Twenty years later, her son is dying of leukemia and can only be saved by a bone marrow transplant from a relative. Catherine/Robin Lee has to face up to her past and reunite with her family if she has any hope of saving him.

Borrowing elements of both the thriller and the romance novel, the story alternates between three narrators: Catherine in the third person, Catherine’s husband Ben in the third person, and Robin Lee’s flashback memories, narrated in the first person. This use of three narrative voices could have been confusing, but it is handled skillfully, highlighting the growing divisions between Catherine and Ben, as her past comes to light, and the decreasing distance between Catherine and her younger self, as their story lines come together, finally collapsing when Catherine returns to Robin Lee’s childhood home and confronts the memories waiting for her there. As the story progresses, tension–and pathos–is heightened as the central tragedy of Robin Lee’s life is gradually revealed, against the backdrop of Catherine’s son’s worsening illness. The language is in turns lyrical and painfully raw, sometimes falling back on diction reminiscent of genre fiction as the characters struggle with their secrets, but always evoking the sights and scents of the settings: a hospital room in the pediatric oncology ward, a root cellar in rural Kentucky. This is not a light and fluffy read, even though it is not long, and the vividness of the descriptions means that readers struggling with abuse or illness may find it challenging. However, it is ultimately a story of hope and healing.

My thanks to the author for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

Want to read it?  Get a copy here.

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