Ayelet Waldman’s Red Hook Road is a poignant study of loss. Don’t read it expecting a cheerful time. Becca Copaken and John Tetherly lose their lives in an accident on the title road between the church and their wedding reception, leaving their respective families to cope with senseless loss during a time set aside for joy and celebration. Despite their long courtship, their families were not on familiar terms. Becca’s Jewish family, “from-aways” who summer in Maine, live comfortably in New York City the rest of the year. John is a local boy whose mother owns a cleaning service that counts the Copakens among its clients.
Music is a prominent theme in this novel. The story starts during the summer of the wedding-accident, and picks up during the three subsequent summers, each like a movement of a symphony with recurring but subtly changing themes. Since we readers never become acquainted with the lost couple, the focus is entirely on how each family member copes. They are flawed, complex people made more believable by the Waldman’s attention to detail. She skillfully shifts the focus around each one, although Becca’s side receives more attention.
Described “as lyrical as a sonata,” the writing consists of long descriptive sentences with commas liberally strewn about. Without much change in tempo, the prose, although beautiful and eloquent at times, can seem monotonous at others.
Nonetheless, Red Hook Road is a moving story. The title reminds us that grief is a process, a journey, albeit an arduous, never-seeming-to-end one. Luckily, the novel doesn’t suffer the same fate–just as one might conclude that the characters will continue on in the same fashion, a summer storms snaps both families out of their grief-tinged patterns. Although the tensions between the couple’s mothers especially don’t melt away, there is hope that each person has turned a corner by the time the reader turns the last page. Perhaps that is all that we can hope for in a book with such a sad premise.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Doubleday. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.