Tuesday, July 22, 2008


When I find an author I really like, I'm pretty loyal to him or her. Except for the ones with long, brilliant careers, I've read the bulk of all the works by the authors on my sidebar. A new book by a favorite author is, to me, like a new album released by a favorite band. I look forward to it and usually try to get my hands on it the minute it comes out, or the minute I hear about it.

So when I saw that A. Manette Ansay had a new one, I bought it without a second thought. I think there is a book of hers that I missed, but I have read virtually everything by her. I got introduced to her works when I wandered into Barnes and Noble one night feeling depressed and beaten down and looking for some new experience to take me out of myself for a bit. They had a copy of River Angel displayed prominently, with the pretty line about souls rising like milkweed and dandelion seeds on the cover. While I'm not Christian, I'd hold this book up as an example of well-done Christian-themed fiction that's not terribly preachy, that emphasizes community, redemption and even mystery and doesn't seek out easy answers (after all, a child had to die and many lives had to be ruined to bring about the happy ending). I set about reading the rest of her books and even read her
autobiography this fall.

Things have changed since she wrote Limbo. She explains in the introduction that she did finally get a diagnosis, that the solution was shockingly simple and that with proper treatment she is not only able to walk and to perform normal tasks without expending all of her energy, but that she and her husband even had a child. It was a medical condition that her baby had that inspired Blue Water.

In the opening pages of the novel, Megan Van Dorn's life is turned upside down. She's driving her six-year-old son to school when someone blows the stop sign at a four-way intersection and shoves their car 20 feet, killing her son. The "someone" turns out to be Cindy Ann Kreisler, a onetime high school friend of Megan's, who was driving her own children to school, still drunk from the night before. The rest of the story involves how Megan and her husband Rex attempting to deal with the tragedy by buying a boat and sailing to the Carribean. It also gives you insight into the events that placed Cindy Ann drunk behind the wheel of an SUV, with her three children from her three marriages in the car with her.

Maybe it's the subject matter, but I didn't take to this book the way I did to the others. I loved the way Ansay made the rural Midwest an additional character in the story, coloring everything that happened. I loved the way she was able to blend plot and character in unexpected ways (the grandmother's big secret, in Vinegar Hill, is both shocking and in character at the same time). I loved her for her ability, in River Angel and in Vinegar Hill, to depict both the positive and destructive sides of faith, community, and tradition. Blue Water seemed, to me, to lack these attributes. You don't get as powerful a sense of who Megan and Rex really are, and much of the book rests on the two of them.

But while it didn't do a whole lot for me, I would still recommend giving this one a try if you like A. Manette Ansay. The book does have many interesting secondary characters: Megan's brother Toby, who runs a fish-and-aquarium shop; his unlikely late-in-life love Mallory, the town's only vegetarian, who makes and sells jewelry and wears men's clothing, and just happens to be Cindy's sister; and the interesting people Megan and Rex meet on the boat (all of whom, it turns out, have something similar lurking in their own pasts). And I felt the parts about Cindy were stronger than those narrated by Megan, possibly because Megan seems to be defined almost solely by the loss of her son. If anyone's read it, I would welcome your own opinions on it, too!

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