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SO FAR AWAY by Meg Mitchell Moore

I was excited to read So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore, the second novel from the author of The Arrivals, which I reviewed here. It has gotten a lot of positive reviews, and I found the plot intriguing. It’s about three women – Kathleen is a single older woman who works at the Massachusetts Archives, Natalie is a thirteen-year old who is being bullied by her ex-best friend, and Bridget is an Irish immigrant in Boston in the 1920s. Their lives intersect in unexpected ways, and each finds some solace or understanding in the others.

Unfortunately, this book fell a little flat for me. I found the triangle contrived, with Bridget’s story too attenuated from Kathleen’s and Natalie’s to fit in the way the author intended. I am not sure what role the Bridget story was intended to play – there was enough going on between Natalie and Kathleen that the plot conceit of the old diary wasn’t really needed.

I also found one theme – girls in danger – to be so overdone and explicitly stated that it got tiresome. Yes, Natalie’s self-absorbed parents were clearly at fault and Kathleen’s clumsy attempts to help Natalie – and to redeem her own failings as a mother – were compelling. But the theme was overstated – literally, written out every few pages. I think the reader would have picked it up just fine without all of the reminders. Children are at risk every day – from injury, from evil at the hand of peers, from drugs. And parents are supposed to pay attention to them and protect them. That’s basically what So Far Away was about, and it was a bit heavy-handed.

I liked The Arrivals because of Moore’s skill in exploring the complex, individual emotions of a whole family stuck in a house for a summer. So Far Away felt like a step back – it was less subtle, less complex, and ultimately less satisfying. I read eagerly more because I wanted to find out what would happen, and less because of my appreciation for the skill of the writer.

I seem to be in the minority on this one – there are lots of very positive reviews of So Far Away. So give it a try and see for yourself if it sounds intriguing.

Thank you to Little, Brown for the review copy.




THE ARRIVALS by Meg Mitchell Moore

The Arrivals, Meg Mitchell Moore’s debut novel, is a quiet book without a lot of drama or action, but a satisfying one nevertheless. The Arrivals is about the summer when sixtysomethings Ginny and William find that their three adult children, Lillian, Stephen and Rachel, have all converged on their serene Vermont home. Lillian is escaping her troubled marriage, with her three year-old daughter and infant son in tow; Stephen came for a quick weekend with his pregnant wife, but complications have put her on bedrest, trapped in the house; and Rachel is adrfit in New York City after a breakup.

I liked The Arrivals. It’s about family relationships and the changing dynamics that are introduced when children become adults and grandchildren and spouses enter the picture. It’s also about unconditional love from parents to children, and how that love can be tested and reaffirmed over time. Again, this isn’t a dramatic book; I read some complaints on Goodreads that not much actually happens. That’s true, but it didn’t bother me. The book was more about the smaller moments – almost vignettes – that make up a summer shared by too many people in the same small space. It was very realistic.

I liked this quote from the almost-end of the book:

[Lillian] recognized that they were all battling – all of them, everyone in the family – to have their needs met. Ginny, William, Rachel, Stephen, Jane, all of them. Even little Philip. Clashing, every day, primal forces pitted against one another.

In a lot of ways, that’s what big family gatherings can be – battles to get individual needs met, and the corresponding disappointments and resentments when they are not.

I am impressed that The Arrivals is Meg Mitchell Moore’s first novel. Her writing is assured and smooth, and the book flowed nicely. I recommend this one to fans of domestic fiction – it’s an easy but satisfying read.

FTC disclaimer: this was one of my purchases from The Strand, bought with my own cash.