Monday, June 7, 2010

Guest House

Guest House by Barbara K. Richardson
Bay Tree Publishing, March 2010
Trade Paperback, 218 pages
ISBN-13: 9780981957715
highly recommended

Driving home from work on a summer afternoon, Melba Burns witnesses a nightmare collision. The wreck ends her pursuit of success at any cost—Melba parks her car, quits her job and stops driving. She retreats into her beloved old farmhouse, yearning for a simpler peace.
But peace and Melba’s new roommate, JoLee Garry, have never met. A shallow, self-absorbed stunner, JoLee magnetizes messes and trouble. She brings boyfriends, booze and a tag-along son with her—a series of unexpected guests who transform Melba’s solo life into something different, daring and richer.
My Thoughts:

Guest House is a beautifully written debut novel by Barbara K. Richardson. The title is taken from Rumi: “This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival…” I'll admit that I approached Guest House with a wee bit of trepidation. I accepted a review copy because I thought I would enjoy it from the description, but I was nervous it would be too chick-lit for me. Those worries were soon negated. You know what? Guest House is a really good book. I'm surprised I haven't read more reviews raving about it. This was the perfect choice to read after the last novel.

This is the story of a woman redefining her life, a dysfunctional family disintegrating, and what happens when their lives converge. Richardson's characters are realistic, flawed, and struggling in some way. I swear I know a few of these characters. Each character clearly has an individual voice and point of view. I sympathisized with Melba and wanted her to get her confidence back. My heart broke for Matt. I wanted to slap JoLee. Gene needed a good talking too. In the end I appreciated the message about love. The best recommendation could be that I stayed up late to finish reading it since I knew I could not sleep until I knew the outcome. Richardson is an author to watch. I expect big things from her in the future.
Highly Recommended

My review copy was courtesy of Anne Staszalek from The Book Report Network. I must thank her for introducing me to an exciting new author to follow.

Melba Burns did not mean to buy the boxy old farmhouse on one-quarter acre in the worst neighborhood in Portland. She’d simply driven down Simpson Street ogling its tall trees and seen the For Sale by Owner sign and stopped. Wading through shin-high grass, Melba laughed. The dirty windows. The gabled roof. She felt the tilting rush the ocean gives when tides are going out, taking your footing with them, and life seems stupendously fine. Melba turned, attempting professional distance. opening

Melba wrote her offer inside the Volvo, sweaty as a kid bearing her testimony in church. She knew her business partners would be appalled. Her friend Ellie would laugh out loud. The move would uproot her urban life, gut her grueling work schedule. Somehow that was the beauty of it.

So Melba Burns—a highly realized woman of independent means--stood on the broad front porch with the spider nests and squashed newspapers looking at the neighbor’s tarped RV, feeling both dizzy and drunk. An idiot might have resisted. Melba knew houses. This house chose her. This house and these neglected grounds. pg. 2-3

Matthew Anderson Garry had spent ten years observing the habits of parentus nondomesticus, and it seemed he would never be manly enough to make his dad proud. pg. 5

HeShe said nothing as usual. Invisible sidekicks were great that way. Matt knew what a fall his dad had taken, driving the Wonder van around Portland for a living. Two years of full time humiliation. Humiliation was one of the creepiest requirements of love. pg. 6

He did it for love. But having her husband home full time made JoLee even crazier than having him gone. pg. 9

Bus routes became familiar in the two weeks since Melba had sidelined her car, quit her job, comforted her partners at their loss, said good-bye to paychecks, to her social life, night life, travel. One event could knock you off your life path, if you let it. That one event, for Melba, was the cyclist's death. pg. 13

Melba took that boy's death like a Teleflorist delivery from God. She would make his death count. pg. 36

She had heard, once, that the secret to any relationship was finding the right distance. Melba felt great empathy for couples, even awe. She'd seen firsthand that partnering was nearly impossible.
The heart is a garden, Melba believed. She happily weeded and pruned hers alone. pg. 112

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