Please welcome Catherine McKenzie, author of three novels - Spin, Arranged and Forgotten - to review one of her favourite recent reads, A Simple thing by Kathleen McCleary.
But first, the synopsis of A Simple Thing:
When Susannah Delaney discovers her young son is being bullied and her adolescent daughter is spinning out of control, she moves them to remote, rustic Sounder Island to live for a year. A simple island existence—with no computers or electricity and only a one-room schoolhouse—is just what her over scheduled East Coast kids need to learn what's really important in life. But the move threatens her marriage to the man she's loved since childhood, and her very sense of self.
For Betty Pavalak, who moved to Sounder to save her own troubled marriage, the island has been a haven for fifty years. But Betty also knows the guilt of living with choices made long ago and actions that cannot be undone. The unlikely friendship between Susannah and Betty ignites a journey of self-discovery for both women and brings them both home to what they love most. A Simple Thing moves beyond friendship, children, and marriages to look deeply into what it means to love and forgive—yourself.
Catherine McKenzie - Guest Review
This novel tells two interweaving storylines: that of a mother—Susannah—who jettisons her home and husband propelled by the desperate need to protect her children from (perceived) harm, and that of a woman nearing the end of her life—Betty—who lives on the remote island Susannah chooses to retreat to.
Both of these women have experienced tragedy and loss, and they are both imprisoned by their pasts, literally and figuratively. Susannah channels her fears and anxieties into her children—the helicopter parent of helicopter parents. When her daughter, Katie, makes a few bad decisions (getting drunk, skipping school), Susannah panics. Where most parents might just impose stricter rules, Susannah moves her family to a remote island on the Pacific Northeast named Sounder, hoping a simpler life will keep her children safe.
Betty, meanwhile, has lived on Sounder for most of her adult life. Married to a philandering husband who wandered in and out of her life, Betty first moved to Sounder in an attempt to save her marriage and ended up staying because she fell in love with the place and the people she found there. But though she finds independence and love, she’s a captive of her previous bad choices and, ultimately, as unable to divorce herself from them as Susannah.
McCleary writes with strength and wit and avoids taking the plot in the obvious direction. She makes us think about how far someone will, and should, go to protect the ones they love and, ultimately, themselves.
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Thank you Catherine!
Catherine McKenzie was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, where she now practices law. An avid runner and skier, she has also taught part-time at the McGill Faculty of Law.
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