Sunday, September 11, 2011

Carry Yourself Back to Me

Carry Yourself Back to Me by Deborah Reed
AmazonEncore, September 2011
Advanced Reading Copy, 303 pages
ISBN-13: 9781935597674

With a broken heart, a stalled career, and a troubled family, singer-songwriter Annie Walsh seeks refuge at her secluded home, surrounded by a lush Florida tangelo grove and the company of her old dog Detour. But a crime connected to her brother Calder threatens to tear her family apart, and Annie is forced to shore up her loyalties and question some profound disappointments of her past. From the ever-changing present, where each hour brings an unforeseen piece of news, to the poignant childhood days of first allegiances and life-changing losses, circumstances converge and Annie steps out to lull the listener into this soulful, stirring journey like a fine and forlorn love ballad. Carry Yourself Back to Me cultivates an often tender, sometimes tart world of love and loss. Inflected with melancholy and redeemed by melody, this deeply affecting story is certain to strike a resonant chord in the heart.

My Thoughts:
Carry Yourself Back to Me by Deborah Reed is the story of singer/songwriter Annie Walsh. Annie has secluded herself at her home in Florida after being abandoned by her lover, Owen, six months ago. This also caused her to be estranged from her brother, Calder. Calder tries to mend their relationship but he is then accused of murdering his girlfriend's husband.
This is author Deborah Reed's first literary novel. She writes suspense fiction under the penname Audrey Braun. Reed includes several mysteries and questions that must be answered in this novel, as well as a lot of introspective musing, reflection on memories, and pondering the meaning of life. There is more going on under the surface than outward appearances would indicate. 
Stylistically, Reed is a good writer. While I will effortlessly concede that the writing is thoughtful and contemplative, and that the descriptions evoke a real sense of place, I would be remiss if I didn't also confess that I had a few problems with Carry Yourself Back to Me. To be honest, I found all the characters whiny and too self absorbed. It was like a stereotypical country song where everything goes wrong, everyone is cheating, and then your dog dies. All of this made the plot feel contrived to me. Apparently bad things have targeted this group of people and they have had it all happen to them.
Carry Yourself Back to Me just felt way too morose and desolate to me. However, with a nod to Reed, the quality of the actual writing kept me reading to see what happened in the end. Once I reached the ending, it felt implausible, but I suppose it neatly tied up all the loose ends of the plot. My issues with the novel may be more indicative of my frame of mind than of the merits of the novel itself. I would say that this novel is a bit more "chick lit" than I normally read. 
Recommended - especially if you tend to like introspective chick lit.
Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of this novel for review purposes.
Since my copy is an ARC, I have quoted the opening of the book from The Nervous Breakdown:
Annie lifts her father’s old binoculars off the porch. Out past the cornfield a lime-colored pickup idles in the fog of Mrs. Lanie’s tangelo grove next door. The driver’s side hangs open, but no one is behind the wheel. Clutter juts from the truck bed, vapor rises from the tailpipe. Annie knows most of Mrs. Lanie’s pickers, but she doesn’t know this truck.

A ridiculous thought occurs to her. Owen’s come back. He’s sneaking through the grove and coming around the back of the house to surprise her. He’ll cup her eyes from behind and say something stupid like, “Guess who needs glasses?” Or “Who turned out the lights?”

It’s early. She hasn’t brushed her teeth or concealed her dark circles. She hasn’t washed her hair or even pulled it back. The ropey ends catch on her mouth as she sips her coffee. She scans the grove for the shape of a person stealing tangelos. There’s no one she can see.

The last thing Annie wants to do is think about Owen. But it’s like one foot tumbling over a slippery edge of earth the way she unexpectedly falls again and again into the same opening. Her thoughts have become flimsy, sentimental, throwaway songs. Nursery rhymes. Where oh where have you gone?

Steam rises to her lashes from the coffee stalled at her lips. She lowers the cup and presses its warmth into her chest, into the pocket of chilled bare skin above the zipper of her fleece.

It’s not as if their five years together were perfect. They were riddled with rough patches, cruel things slipping from their mouths. She watches the fog shift over the field and remembers all those brassy, merciless words. No doubt she’d use them again, given the chance.

The problem is the nights she couldn’t sleep for all the pleasure rushing through her. The malty scent of his skin, like freshly cut grain, something meant to be eaten. The feel of his cuff brushing her wrist made her greedy for sex and food and music to be played even louder. She’d spent years floundering in smoky, mediocre venues hoping for a crowd to show, and suddenly, here was her muse, her good luck charm, making her old hopes seem puny, amateurish in comparison to what she had with him.

She can’t forget this is the porch where most of the songs for Gull on a Steeple were written. Detour the same old dog that howled at the harmonica. These Adirondack chairs the ones whose red paint Annie and Owen wore away from so much use. Annie circles the rings of coffee and wine with her finger, the oily bug spray sealed into the arms like evidence of mornings, evenings, late nights spent trying to get it right. He made an honest-to-God singer-songwriter out of her. She made a sought-after music producer out of him. Rolling Stone declared Gull on a Steeple “An instant classic filled with vivid tales of love and loss without the slightest hint of sentimentality.” Depression magazine claimed, “Annie Walsh’s painful, clear-eyed, storied songs are woven with a voice reminiscent of the great Patsy Cline, Lucinda Williams, and Aimee Mann, all spun into one.” The comparisons flattered her for the first few minutes, but after that and ever since she’s done nothing but worry about measuring up. Even when Entertainment Weekly came along and knocked her down to something of a Disney production. “A sprightly, nearly elfin frame that charms its way across the stage and into your heart.”

Now it’s hard to even listen to music, let alone play it.

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