Tuesday, February 27, 2007

book review - In Search of Eden

Title: In Search of Eden
Author: Linda Nichols
Publisher: Bethany House, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-7642-0167-7
Genre: Contemporary fiction

It took author Linda Nichols a prologue and one chapter of In Search of Eden to convince me that Dorrie’s quest to find the baby she gave up for adoption eleven years earlier was one I shouldn’t miss. By the time the present part of the story opens in Minneapolis (Chapter 2), her journey has already taken her to Chicago, Montana, New York City, Pittsburgh, San Jose, and Seattle. Clues finally lead her to Abingdon, Virginia. There things don’t start well when she’s stopped by the resident cop as she drives into town. She eventually manages to find a job, a place to live (above the funeral home) and though more than once discouragement tempts her to give up her search and move on, she spends the summer. That is long enough to make a whole village of new friends and experience a grace that is both subtle and earth-shaking.

I found the characters in the book believable and interesting. I was sympathetic to main character Dorrie / Miranda (she changes her name partway through) from the beginning and she grew on me even more as the plot’s ups and downs tested her mettle. Eden, a spunky 11-year-old who loves all things western and mystery was equally well done.

I’m usually also drawn to villains in a story. I thought I had found such a person in Noreen, Miranda’s mother, until near the end when she morphs from a Cruella Deville into someone unexpectedly heroic. However, it was obviously Nichols’ intention to redeem her and all the other gray characters, as she makes clear in a ‘Dear Reader’ letter at book’s end:
“I also hope we can all stop working so hard to make everything perfect, including ourselves, and instead love and be loved by the bumpy, imperfect people around us.”

I liked the way Nichols tells the story. I especially enjoyed the beginning when, without much introduction she rolls out vignette after vignette involving the various characters. This placed a demand on me to splice the story strands together – something I found satisfying. Sub plots are deftly woven in and out of the main plot. The whole thing added up to a lively and compelling read. The only plot bit that gave me mental whiplash, because of how far-fetched it felt, was the identity of Johnny Adair revealed at the end of the book

I thought the small-town setting suited the story well – dealing as it does with warm and homey matters of family and the heart. There were times when Nichols’ descriptions of Abingdon and its people reminded me of Jan Karon’s Mitford books. In a couple of instances Nichols’ settings also work like a movie soundtrack influencing the emotional tone as in this description of Miranda’s trip into West Virginia:

“The mountains rose up on either side of her, jagged and sharp. They blocked out the sun . . . and the woods beneath them looked wild and lonely and cruel. . . . It began to rain and darkness fell.”
Nichols’ writing style achieves a nice balance of poetry and efficiency – descriptive and detailed but not flowery, good conversation, no ambivalence about whose head one is in. In fact I felt she excelled at getting inside the minds and emotions of pretty much every character, even the very minor ones. The title is another little stylistic coup with its double meaning possibilities.

The way the story explores family relationships, forgiveness, mother love, and adoption will give it appeal to readers in a wide range of ages. It is written out of a Christian world view but is never preachy. However, even though God is not mentioned much overtly, His fingerprints are all over this story from nurse Wanda’s hurried prayer of blessing on Dorrie’s baby at the beginning, to the words of wisdom cited by the mountain woman: “When you see those graves remember ... that’s your history, not your future,” to the answer found within the mystery box Eden finally decides to open at twenty-one.

For a thoughtful and satisfying read that will leave you feeling warmed and hopeful, In Search of Eden is a good choice. The paperback edition I read came with a set of discussion questions at the end, making this book excellent for reading clubs too.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...