Book Review: Safe Within
Published By: William Morrow
Publication Date: June 12, 2012
Page Count: 352
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher for TLC Book Tours
Audience: Adult - Contemporary
Safe Within tells the story of family drama surrounding the marriage of Elaine and Carson Forsyth. Secrets from long ago still hound the couple and have caused Carson's mother, Greta, to deny her grandson his entire life and refuse to have anything to do with any member of the family other than Carson. Things might have stayed in their constant pattern of distrust and anger if it hadn't been for Carson's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. The cancer will eventually pull him from his family and force the two halves to find away to exist as a whole. Jean Reynolds Page knows southern families and brings them to life in this poignant story of love, loss, regret, and new beginnings.
I have long been a fan of stories set in the South. I suppose we always gravitate toward the familiar and this one caught my interest originally because it is set in North Carolina, a state that is near and dear to my heart. Reading books set in places that I know and love often makes the stories come alive in more dazzling colors, playing within my mind like a movie. Safe Within is no exception to that rule - between my personal knowledge and Page's excellent writing - this novel was incredibly visual. One of the most unique elements that was the most fun for my imagination to conjure was Elaine's childhood home built in the trees bordering a lake. I always wanted to live up in the trees after seeing Swiss Family Robinson as a kid; I was obsessed with trying to figure out how to make that type of home my very own someday. Sadly, my dream never became a reality, but it is nice to see others who are inspired by such whimsical living arrangements. The tree house also becomes a dominant feature throughout the entire novel. For me, it was a symbol of the old and new coming together to form something entirely different; it truly is the one place where Carson's life before marriage and life after find a way to coexist.
The moments before Carson's death tore at my heartstrings. He isn't present for very much of the actual novel - memories of him dominant the pages - but it was so touching to see how much he meant to those he loved. I can't even imagine losing my husband at such a young age. I would hope that, like Elaine, I would have the strength to hold onto the memories while attempting to pick up the pieces and construct a new existence for myself. Elaine is one of those characters you have to admire. She has a strength and grace about her that isn't always present in the grieving. One of Elaine's thoughts sticks out in my mind as being the crux of the matter, "She'd pledged till death, but it didn't end there. Love didn't end anywhere. It simply endured the absence of the beloved" (pg. 53). I really like the concept that this line of thinking brings to my mind. Death is always portrayed as such a gloom and doom part of life, but Page somehow finds a way to paint death in a way that provides some comfort. It is not an easy task as nobody truly knows what happens to us when we die, but I'd like to think that Page has it right.
The concept of regret is also a dominant feature of this novel. Greta is dealing with the regret that she has pushed Elaine and Mick away for 20+ years. She chooses to believe rumors that Mick is not Carson's son and allows them to dictate her interactions with her family. Without Carson around, Elaine and Mick are the only family she has left. Moving past her stubbornness isn't something Greta is comfortable doing, but she may not have a choice as her eyesight keeps failing and things in her world keep changing drastically. She's not the only one at fault. Elaine and Mick have done their fair share of being in the wrong. What I really like about this novel is that nobody is labeled as the bad guy. All of the characters involved in the disagreement are in the wrong at some point and have to struggle to a place where they can admit that. Each one of them grows in tremendous ways and learns more about themselves throughout the course of the book. The ending leaves things open for the reader to imagine what the next step will be for Elaine, Mick, and Greta.
This novel is one that encourages me to not waste any moment; life is too short for regrets. In the end, family is often all we have.
One Last Gripe: I wish I knew for sure that all these characters were going to be okay. The narrative ended too soon for my taste.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: The characters and watching them work through their struggles
First Sentence: Elaine pulled into the lot beside the Roseville Municipal Building.
Favorite Character: Elaine
Least Favorite Character: Laurie
Elaine and Carson Forsyth have returned to the tree house—Elaine’s childhood home, a cabin nestled high in the branches of two oaks beside a North Carolina lake—where forty-nine-year-old Carson has chosen to spend the waning days of his life. As Elaine prepares for a future without her beloved husband, their solace is interrupted. Carson’s mother, Greta, has set loose a neighbor’s herd of alpacas and landed herself in police custody. While Carson, remarkably, sees humor in the situation, Elaine can only question what her obligations are—and will be—to a woman who hasn’t spoken to her in more than twenty years.
In the wake of Carson’s death, Elaine and their grown son, Mick, are thrust into the maelstrom of Greta, the mother-in-law and grandmother who never accepted either of them. Just as they are trying to figure out their new roles in the family, Mick uncovers unexpected questions of his own. A long-ago teenage relationship with a local girl may have left him with more than just memories, and he must get to the bottom of Greta’s surprising accusations that he’s not Carson’s son at all.
About The Author:
Jean Reynolds Page is the author of Leaving Before It’s Over, The Last Summer of Her Other Life, The Space Between Before and After, A Blessed Event and Accidental Happiness. She grew up in North Carolina and graduated with a degree in journalism from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Page worked as an arts publicist in New York City, and for over a decade reviewed dance performances for numerous publications, before turning full time to fiction in 2001. In addition to North Carolina and New York, she has lived in Boston, Dallas and Seattle. Two years ago, she moved with her family to a new home near Madison, Wisconsin.
Tuesday, June 12th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Wednesday, June 13th: Reading Lark
Thursday, June 14th: A Cozy Reader’s Corner
Friday, June 15th: Cover to Cover … and everything in between!
Monday, June 18th: Hospitable Pursuits
Tuesday, June 19th: Silver & Grace
Wednesday, June 20th: A Musing Reviews
Thursday, June 21st: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, June 25th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Tuesday, June 26th: Paperback Princess
Wednesday, June 27th: BookNAround
Thursday, June 28th: The Book Bag