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RED HOOK ROAD by Ayelet Waldman


Red-Hook-Road I just read my second Ayelet Waldman novel – Red Hook Road. (The first was Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, which I reviewed here.)

Red Hook Road opens with a wedding on the Maine coast, between Becca Copaken and John Tetherly. John is from a working class, native Maine family, while Becca’s family lives in New York City and spends its summers in Maine. Despite the differences in their backgrounds, Becca and John are deeply in love, and the wedding is a beautiful affair. However, tragedy strikes after the ceremony, when Becca and John die in a car accident en route to their reception.

Red Hook Road, named for the street on which the newlyweds’ limo collided with an SUV, deals with the aftermath of the accident and the years that follow. Waldman explores how Becca’s parents, Iris and Daniel, turn away from each other after the loss of their daughter, while John’s mother Jane’s resentment of her erstwhile in-laws grows with each passing year. Meanwhile, John and Becca’s younger siblings, Matt and Ruthie, turn to each other in their time of grief.

The good: Waldman is a beautiful writer: precise, detailed, and analytical. (Can you tell she is a former lawyer?) She tells a lovely story – full of gestures and inflections and observations – that makes you feel as though you are standing in the room with these characters. The premise of the book is a compelling one – how life can change so drastically in a split second, and how deep the ramifications of those changes can be.

In the end, though, I liked this book but didn’t love it. There are times when it dragged a bit, especially when Waldman gets into the details of violin instruction and shipbuilding (two important themes in the book). I skimmed a few sections because the details got tedious.

I also think that Waldman suffers from “tell, don’t show” syndrome. I’d prefer for the themes to emerge more subtly, rather than to have Waldman tell me over and over. There is a long passage at the end of the book comparing shipbuilding to marriage. I’d like to have come to that conclusion on my own rather than reading it and having it fed to me.  Finally, the end was a little over the top and mostly unnecessary.

I really wanted to love this book – and I did enjoy it a lot – but I can’t say that I feel as passionately about it as I’d hoped.

Hola Senor FTC! This book was provided for me as a review copy from Doubleday, at my request.


Waldman I've always wanted to read something by Ayelet Waldman. I've known of her for a while – the author who famously said that she loves her husband more than her children – and she has a new book out that I want to read (Red Hook Road). But I opted to read Love and Other Impossible Pursuits first - I picked it up at a used book sale earlier this year and it was the right book at the right time after I finished the last one.

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits is about Emilia, a thirty-something former lawyer married to Jack, a divorced man with a young son, William. Emilia has a fraught relationship with William and his nightmare oof an ex-wife, and when the book opens, she is grieving over the loss of her newborn daughter, Isabel. The book is about the year after Isabel's death, as she comes to terms with her role as William's stepmother and works through her grief and depression.

Emilia can be a pretty unlikable character at times. As a reader, I sort of wanted to shake her, and put a mirror to her actions so that she could see, objectively, what she was doing. I don't need likable characters, but I do need believable characters, and there were times when Emilia's selfishness was over the top. She cowered next to Jack's ex-wife, yet she continued to act in ways that invited criticism and fury from her and others. At the same time, she took others for granted and pushed and took from them without, it seemed, giving much back.


I have to say that I love Waldman's writing. It's full of detail and analysis and wry humor and sharp observations about modern day New York living. She's entertaining and smart, and I read the book eagerly despite Emilia's shortcomings as a protagonist. I enjoyed Love and Other Impossible Pursuits. I am curious to read her new one, because I suspect she has probably gotten better as a novelist, and I'm intrigued.

Also, if you enjoy Central Park, it has a supporting role here too. I loved that part!

Anyone else read this one?