Olsen’s debut novel, Root, Petal, Thorn is journey through one women’s grief and her quest to understand the women who have occupied her historical home in an old neighborhood in Salt Lake City, Utah. Olsen does a nice job of setting the story in Utah with only touching on the Mormon religion, rather than focusing the entire novel on it. Her descriptions of the town, characters and house transport you to the town and into the lives of the inhabitants.
The novel is about Ivy Baygren, a mother of two who loses her husband unexpectedly and needs to figure out how to handle her own grief while also managing her household and children. Ivy delves into ‘easter eggs’ that she finds in her home. Buried wine bottles in the backyard that once belonged to a Greek mother in World War II, a hand print on the garage floor, and embroidery in the attic from one of the original occupants when the house was build in the 1920s.
Through Ivy’s explorations, the novel changes narrators to tell stories of the past women. Lainey Harper and her daughter Sylvie occupy the house in the 1960s. Lainey was troubled and young, but Ivy meets her daughter and is able to learn stories of the artist. Eris Gianopolous buried wine in the backyard and waited for her son to return from World War II. We see glimpses into their past lives, a history of the house and some of their current stories. We learn about Emmeline Lansing, the oldest occupant and young Mormon who falls in love with a man and has to come to terms with the practice of polygamy.
Even though the story of Ivy itself is a bit thin, the overall novel is enjoyable. When the novel comes back to the present, to Ivy’s grief and her children, not much happens, the story seems to stall, but when the story delves into the past, into the lives of those that were there before, from the rose bush in the yard to the reading nook in the living room, the story picks up the pace and is really engaging, the characters are interesting and genuine. Overall, a great first novel and I will look for further works from Olsen.
Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Kensington. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.