Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Review - Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall

Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall

published 8/09
319 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Olivia Harker Cross owns a strip of mountain in Pope County, Kentucky, a land where whites and blacks eke out a living in separate, tattered kingdoms and where silver-faced wolves howl in the night. But someone is killing the wolves of Big Foley Mountain–and Olivia is beginning to realize how much of her own bitter history she’s never understood: Her mother’s madness, building toward a fiery crescendo. Her daughter’s flight to California, leaving her to raise Will’m, her beloved grandson. And most of all, her town’s fear, for Olivia has real and dangerous enemies.

Now this proud, lonely woman will face her mother and daughter, her neighbors and the wolf hunters of Big Foley Mountain. And when she does, she’ll ignite a conflict that will embroil an entire community–and change her own life in the most astonishing of ways.

My thoughts:

This book was poised to be on my list of favorites for the year. It has great writing, a fantastic protagonist, and a heart-wrenching narrative. And then the last 7 chapters happened.

I've seen a couple of reviews that liken Sweeping Up Glass to the beloved novel To Kill a Mockingbird. I can understand the comparison - the plucky young girl and her beloved father, no maternal figure, the segregated south during the Depression, the fight between justice and evil. But if this is Scout, it is a very grown-up, world weary Scout, who has certainly seen more of life than when we last encountered her. Olivia has spent her life working for her very survival, and she has the strength and wits to prove it. She's haunted by the death of her father, and the craziness of her mother, and she has cobbled together a sort of family that she loves and protects fiercely. She was a completely fascinating character, and her voice was the strength that held the story together.

"With Will'm beside me, I drive the pickup six miles to the graveyard. There'll be a crowd, and Miz Grace Harris will go into the earth knowing she's loved. She knew who she was. I, on the other hand, know who I am when I'm selling vanilla and cardamom, or baking a brown sugar cake with Will'm. When I'm with Love Alice, I'm sure and strong. But something happens when I'm alone. When there are no other eyes to reflect my own, a great doubt blindsides me, and in those moments I wonder if I'm here at all."

Like much contemporary, literary fiction, this novel is often sad, and sometimes brutal. Evilness and death are companions to these characters, and they deal with both the best ways they know how. It wasn't always easy reading, but Wall is able to keep her story filled with just enough hope - just enough laughter - that even when it was somber, it wasn't depressing.

"I sigh and feed the last two with the eyedropper Dooby gave me, and tuck them back into their box. I carry their brother and a big cooking spoon out to the rise, bury him next to his ma'am and say a prayer in Will'm's name. I mark the place with a stick. It's an extravagant funeral for so small a thing. But all living things do not feel about their ma'ams the way I do. In fact, maybe this one missed his so much, he went off to be with her. That's what I'll tell Will'm when he comes home, that it's dying was a loving thing."

The only complaint I had with the novel was that, for some reason, the last 7 chapters suddenly changed from engrossing literary fiction to what felt like a mystery/thriller. There had been hints of the mystery throughout the novel, but suddenly at the very end the author charged into a fast-paced, near-fatal action squence that seemed a bit out character with the rest of the novel. It didn't ruin the book for me, but I didn't feel that the ending fit with the rest of the story.

In general, however, I loved this book. Olivia is a fantastic heroine, and the story was beautifully told. I will definitely be looking for more work by this author!

Finished: 8/21/09
Source: the publisher
Rating: 8/10


Diane said...

Great review. I hope to get my hands on this one too.

Hazra said...

Somehow this reminds me of The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough. I find literary fiction a pleasure to read, and I'm looking out for books to add to my list.

bermudaonion said...

I wonder what happened toward the end - I wonder if they rushed to get it to press or something.

Zibilee said...

I read this also and thought it was really haunting and evocative. I agree with your point about the last few chapters of the book, they seemed a bit out of place, but overall, I liked the story quite a bit. I am glad you enjoyed it. Great review!

Meghan said...

I'd still like to read this even if the ending goes a bit peculiar. I think the rest of it must make up for it!

Mon said...

Great review. I'll look into this one.

I always wonder about those out of sync last chapters, such as Kite Runner. Is it a deadline?

Still seems worth a read, thanks.