Monday, May 4, 2009

These Granite Islands

These Granite Islands by Sarah Stonich was originally published in 2001. My hardcover copy has 310 pages. These Granite Islands recounts the memories of a dying ninety-nine year old woman, Isobel Howard, and, more specifically, the questions she still has about a friend she made in the summer of 1936. Because this is written as if a dying woman is remembering, the story is not completely linear at all times. It also shifts from the past to the present. I found these shifts were easy to follow and, in fact, added to the story, made it feel more authentic. I will have to say that remembering a specific friendship from one summer in such detail so many years later does seem a bit incongruous, however, I can accept that the mystery surrounding it at the end is what made it memorable and she could have been recounting the details in her mind for years. Stonich writes beautifully, which added to the story. Highly Recommended

Synopsis from cover:
"These Granite Islands is an arresting first novel about a woman who, on her deathbed, recalls the haunting and fateful summer of 1936, a summer that forever changed her life.... Isobel has been wife, mother, hatmaker. At the end of her long life she is simply herself, with one last story to tell her only surviving child. She picks up the threads of a mystery that has shadowed her for sixty years and recalls her brief but unforgettable friendship with an extraordinary woman. During one long-ago summer she witnesses a passionate and dangerous love affair that tests her loyalty and challenges her definitions of what is proper. This summer becomes the prism to refract the essence of Isobel's life. When it dissolves in a haunting tragedy, Isobel is left to assess her future and her own marriage and, finally, to ponder the risk of loving someone wholly. An intimate and gripping story of a friendship, a portrait of a marriage, and a meditation on the tragedy of loss..."

"They worked side by side through the warm days, and in the evenings they traveled the fringes of town to the reedy shore, walking arm in arm the way women no longer walk." first sentence

"A tear fell then to the pebbly sand, where it was taken by the lazy tongue of surf. One drop of a woman's sorrow or happiness pulled away, absorbed into the grey song of a glacial lake." pg. 4

"The summer began with the island, and the island began with Christmas of the winter before. Church bells heralded Christmas, and so in a way rang in the existence of the island. Isobel remembered easily now, clear as the carillon resounding from the bell tower at Our Lady of the Lake on a snowy afternoon.
On Christmas Eve Victor came home, not with gifts for their children, but with three peppermint candy canes." pg. 5

"By the third day, Isobel was nearly herself. She'd grown accustomed to being alive; she even felt resolve, a near optimism about continuing on. As she took in the room's false cheer of yellow wallpaper and orange plastic chairs, she remembered the fleeting moments of her stroke." pgs. 18-19

"Strange how you know of something all your life and only find at the end there has been a better word for it all along. The syllables bumped pleasantly against her dentures as she read aloud, 'Tintinnabulation: The sound of the pealing of bells.' " pg. 29

"she woke early to find the sun not yet risen and the house perfectly quiet. She lay motionless next to her husband, the deep silence revealing a jewel within her cache of memory. she had only to reach up and wrap her hands around the glad weight of it.
Had it been there all this time?" pg. 30

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