Beautiful Lies

Fox River

One Moment Past Midnight

The Parting Glass

Prospect Street

Twice Upon a Time

Whiskey Island

 
The Wedding Ring
by Emilie Richards
(Mira, $23.95, PG) ISBN 0-7783-2063-4
***
Many of Emilie Richardsí novels have a bit of a dark edge to them, especially those with exotic or gritty settings such as the Australian outback (Beautiful Lies) or Clevelandís underground tunnels (Whiskey Island). However, her latest release, Wedding Ring, is straightforward Womenís Fiction; any potential edges are cushioned by the scenic Shenandoah Valley setting and the beautiful quilts created by the novelís heroines. Like all books by this talented author, Wedding Ring is an engaging drama filled with insightful dynamics into the relationships among three generations of women. But itís missing that edge that sets her best novels above the rest of the pack. †

Tessa MacRae has an uneasy relationship with her mother Nancy, who in turn has never been close to her own mother Helen. But summer brings the three women together in Virginiaís Shenandoah Valley. When Helenís neighbors alert Nancy that the elderly womanís behavior is becoming eccentric enough to be dangerous, the daughter and granddaughter find that the family matriarch has become a reclusive, compulsive hoarder who has filled the house with needless junk. Tessa and Nancy prevail over Helenís objections to their cleaning, and as the women work together they slowly start to bridge the chasms that have divided them. †

But the path to reconciliation is anything but smooth. Helen is a crotchety octogenarian whose lack of warmth towards her only child is related to multiple devastating personal losses. Nancy is an insecure socialite with a showplace home in Richmond that canít compensate for an unfulfilling marriage. And Tessa has been in an emotional tailspin for three years, ever since her 5 year old daughterís life was cut short by a drunk driver. She has devoted countless hours to the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving but has steadily pulled away from her concerned husband. Fortunately, the three women find a common bond in the uniquely beautiful quilts that Helen has made for herself and others for more than 50 years. Through their efforts to restore and exhibit the quilts, and through their relationship with an unwed pregnant teenager who craves love and attention, all three women find a way to move beyond the past. †

As always, Richards excels at creating believable, fully-developed characters. None of the three heroines is perfect, but their pain forces them to grow into better people, especially once they realize they can find comfort in each other. Richards devotes a great deal of time to a grim but realistic and ultimately hopeful portrayal of Tessa and Mackís marriage. While Mack has used a Compassionate Friends support group to work through the worst of his anger, Tessa zealously hangs onto hers, and her inability to tolerate intimacy with Mack may be the death knell of their relationship. When Mack is tempted by another woman, his ambivalence is honest and palpable, and the other woman is portrayed equally sympathetically, not as a heartless home wrecker. †

While most of the book takes place in the present, several chapters cover pivotal moments in Helenís and Nancyís pasts. These passages give the reader insight into the events that shaped their lives, but are too brief to be fully satisfying. In particular, I could have easily devoured more pages portraying the challenges Helen faced growing up in rural Virginia during the Great Depression, and sacrificed some of the many chapters detailing Tessaís endless misery. †

Although Wedding Ring clocks in at an impressive 450 pages, the novel moves quickly. According to the authorís note, this is the first installment of a planned trilogy that features ďtraditional quilts and the women whose lives they enrich and change.Ē While Iím sure the next two novels will be well-written and compelling, I hope Richards is able to add a little more bite to the stories Ė maybe something unpredictable or a little bit dangerous that signals a special reading experience. †

--Susan Scribner


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