Kline’s first novel is a captivating read.When a grandfather she never knew bequeaths her a house and 60 acres of land in Sweetwater, Tenn., a restless young artist leaves New York to recover her past and rethink her future. Cassie Simon’s mother Ellen died when Cassie was only three; raised in Boston by her grieving father, she never knew her maternal relatives. Unprepared for the thick veil of mystery that surrounds them, Cassie is especially bewildered by her brusque grandmother, whom rumor credits with hiding a terrible secret about Ellen’s death.
In alternating sections told from their respective points of view, Cassie and her grandmother fight their separate battles to cope with the truth about the tragedy. Kline perfectly renders each woman’s voice: Cassie’s, probing and often uncertain, propels the narrative and creates an appropriate level of psychological suspense; the grandmother’s quavers with the weight of memory as Cassie’s search forces her beyond family myth to a painful and perhaps dangerous truth.The result is a powerful, immensely readable tale of loyalty and betrayal, family and memory, made fresh by Kline’s often beautiful and always lucid prose.
My only Christina Baker Kline read to date is her novel, Orphan Train (my review here). Recently, while searching my local library for good summer reading, I came across Sweet Water. Mention of the setting in my former home state of Tennessee drew me quickly to discover more. A quick online search proved my recollection of a town by the same name as the book only spelled differently, Sweetwater, a small town of about 5,000 at last count.
All those teasers did not lure me into a disappointing read. I love good down home fiction, and Cassie Simon is easy to love and hold high hopes for her dreams. A New York artist learning of an inheritance of property in a smaller than life Sweet Water (the fictional Sweet Water) from a grandfather she barely knew lends a hint of mystery and family tensions on the rise.
Kline never leaves her character development to chance, and in Sweet Water her mastery of the skill shines. Likewise, her use of two narrators, Cassie and her grandmother, makes for a suspenseful ride into Sweet Water, meeting the family, and learning the back story leading up to Cassie’s inheritance.
A quick and enjoyable read with an interesting cast of characters. What more could you want in a good summertime book?
Christina Baker Kline is the author of five novels. Her most recent novel, Orphan Train, has spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list, including five weeks at # 1, and has been published in 38 countries. More than 100 communities and colleges have chosen it as a “One Book, One Read” selection. Her other novels include The Way Life Should Be, Sweet Water, Bird in Hand, and Desire Lines. Her new novel, based on the iconic painting Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth, will be published in Winter 2017.
In addition to her five novels, Kline has written and edited five nonfiction books. She commissioned and edited two widely praised collections or original essays on the frist year of parenthood and raising young children, Child of Mine and Room to Grow, and a book on grieving, Always Too Soon. She is the coeditor, with Anne Burt, of a collection of personal essays called About Face: Women Write About What They See When They Look in the Mirror, and is co-author, with her mother, Christina Looper Baker, of a book on feminist mothers and daughters, The Conversation Begins. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle,Money, More, Psychology Today, among other places.