Friday, July 04, 2008

Through a child's eyes

I recently finished reading When Madeline Was Young, by Jane Hamilton. I've read a few of her books before - A Map of the World (which I was rather ambivalent about) and The Book of Ruth (which I thought was wonderful) - so I figured it was time to pick her up again.

The novel hinges on Hamilton's deft sketch of the Maciver family. Our narrator's father, Aaron, an intellectual fellow from a good family, marries the beautiful Madeline, a statuesque blonde with a penchant for fashion. Everything is going along swimmingly in their new-married lives until Madeline suffers head trauma during a bicycle accident, leaving her with the mind of a 7-year-old.

With Madeline's own parents at too much of a loss to care for her, this duty falls to Aaron and his aging mother. Soon, however, another woman enters the picture - solid, smart, gentle Julia. Over time, Aaron and Julia fall in love. What to do? The two arrange for Mac to divorce Madeline and marry Julia, and then Julia and Mac care tenderly for Madeline as if she were one of their own children. Aaron and Julia go on to have their own children (of which Mac, our narrator, is one) and live full lives together against the backdrop of the coming Vietnam War.

Characterization in this book is wonderful, and I liked Hamilton's basic premise - What happens after tragedy? And not just in the initial months, but in the long years thereafter, when the grind of constant care and eternal watchfulness drags a bit? How do people piece their lives together in the face of such responsibilities?

Hamilton freely admits that this book was inspired by Spencer's A Light in the Piazza (which I have been meaning to read for months). Now that I've finished this tome, I plan on getting Spencer's short novel at the library during my next trip. (Incidentally, A Light in the Piazza was also adapted as a stage musical. New Stage Theatre will be producing in next season.)

At any rate, while not an uplifting sort of read, I found this novel to be interesting and well thought out. Worth reading.

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