Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Count the Ways

Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard
7/13/21; 464 pages

Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard is a very highly recommended, excellent, heartrendingly beautiful family drama spanning five decades.

Eleanor was already accustom to living a solitary life when her self-absorbed, usually inebriated parents died in a car accident while she was a teen away at boarding school which left her truly alone in the world. She has always been an artist and a series of children's books she started after this were published and became successful which provided for her the financial independence to buy an old farmhouse in New Hampshire. Eleanor loves her farm house and spends several years living there alone, happy and working on her books.

When she meets Cam at a craft fair the handsome, redheaded woodworker steals her heart. He moves to her farm where the two have three children they adore: Alison, Ursula, and Toby. They are a busy, active family, but when a terrible accident occurs caused by Cam's negligence, Eleanor can't forgive him. Cam, however, turns to the teenage babysitter for solace. The marriage breaks up, but the children never learn about Cam's betrayal and blame Eleanor for everything. Over the decades that follow the family encounters more trials, decisions, and experiences that shape all of their lives.

Eleanor is a wonderfully fully-developed character and will elicit empathy, understanding, and compassion. She loves her children above all else. She is relatable and you will feel her pain and understand the losses she endures. Maynard interweaves into the plot historical events of the times and, because the novel spans decades, many readers will recall and relate to all of the historical events, as well as the music. Eleanor does the right thing for her children, yet she is the one who ultimately pays the price for her integrity. Eleanor's life experiences are both frustrating and tragic, and, ultimately, result in hard-fought wisdom and integrity. I really can't recall another novel where I related so completely to the character that I felt we knew each other, that we comfortably sit down and visit with each other like old friends.

I was totally engrossed in the poignant, heartbreaking story of this woman's life and her her family. Following all the changes Eleanor and her family goes through is touching, but also painful. The narrative opens with Eleanor in her fifties, her children grown, and she has long been divorced from Cam. Then the novel goes back in time and follows Eleanor's life up to the time of the opening scene. And I was totally enmeshed in the entire story of her life and all of her experiences.  Maynard realistically captures the life of a family as they confront fundamental, difficult truths from their past, and ultimately find common ground in their love of each other which allows them to continue. 

This will be a contender for my list of top novels of the year. The Ho'oponopono prayer which Maynard opens Count the Ways with is so fitting: I’m sorry. I love you. Thank you. Please forgive me. There are a few events that are a part of Eleanor's life which perhaps make it a bit too melodramatic and on-topic, on-trend, and obviously political (for example the MeToo story line), but the plot elements are resolved and handled well.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins in exchange for my honest opinion.


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