This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by Audible Studios
Released on May 5, 2016
Length: 10 hours 52 minutes
This was a book that left me processing and unsure of just how I felt about it when all was said and done. Let’s just say that whatever preconceived notions I had (even though I hadn’t realized I made any) had to be discarded. And more than once. A sleeper book that fools you with its outer packaging, initial set up and mid-story reset, it was soft and gentle, but had hidden sharpness that cut and drew out the readers emotions and thoughts. It doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed not even by genre. Is it historical fiction, women’s fiction, a romance, a treatise on feminism? Erm, Yes. But no.
So now that I’ve got you thoroughly confused, on to the summary.
The story spans many decades mostly between the 1940s to the 1970s with some on either side. It follows Meridian Wallace’s life. Beginning with her childhood in Pennsylvania, to her scholarship at the university in Chicago where she has chosen ornithology- the study of birds, to meeting two men and choosing one. She is a promising scholar and her chances are strong for a doctorate and to be a leader in her field when women of her era dreamed of husband, home, and children. Meridian is quiet, but open to exploring the world and ambitious for her educational goal to gain her degree and study her birds. The shadows of WWII grow more ominous as people she knows go off to war or off to end the war.
Alden Whetstone was the teacher who challenged her mind and captivated her when she was a young university student. His fire and brilliant thoughts made her reject the more conventional choice of love for a young man of her own age with the handsome features and happy go lucky nature. Alden is older, confident, set in his ways. He struggles in social situations and is of a serious nature. He is not easy. Their relationship seems an odd match and their engagement happens about the time he is called in for a top secret project in New Mexico working as one of the scientists on the atomic bomb. They are married during this time and Meridian thinks to temporarily set aside her own studies to join Alden until the end of the war.
The war ends and Alden has no intentions of leaving his work in New Mexico. He doesn’t ask, but makes the assumption that she should be the one to give in toward his career. Meridian’s once hopeful future of receiving her doctorate recedes into the past as she has to adjust her life. Not easily. Alden doesn’t seem to notice or truly appreciate the sacrifice she made which leads to bitterness and the realization of what she can expect now of her life. She keeps her hopes alive by studying the crows in a nearby canyon and trying various new things while seeking her niche and purpose beyond being identified only as Alden’s wife. Hope of rekindling what she had with Alden in the university years dims. He never promised a passionate romance and now she is realizing that he didn’t lie. Alden is Alden. He’s set in his ways and expects he knows her and knows best for her.
Over the years, life ebbs and flows and Meridian flows with it until another man enters her life. Clay challenges her to live. To really live. Break out of the mold and be who she was meant to be. But there is Alden. Life didn’t give her the great romance she hope for, but life has taught Meridian that there are different kinds of love. And this second time? What will she choose?
As I said, this is not an easy book. I liked it; I didn’t. It was sloggish; it was brilliant. It was insightful; it was a whole lot of the same. The historical elements were well done. Each decade brought new backdrops and I thought the author did well advancing the characters through the years so that I could see how each era affected the characters, but didn’t bury the story in minutia. But beyond the historical elements, there is an exploration of the social history and how it both impacts and alters the heroine. It looks hard at women’s history and advancement as told by the housewife of a brilliant scientist who is stodgy, conservative, and traditional to the core next to her inquiring, interested, and open mind on the subjects of fulfillment through marriage and children, career, interest, sex and intimacy, hierarchy, and equality.
Meridian was the key. Her character was the story. She had more depth than some real life people. Shades of gray, flaws, steel, color, quiet wisdom, passion, anger, hope, and bitterness.
I had mixed feelings about her.
At times, I sympathized with her plight, but at others, I felt like she was being unfair to Alden. He was a man of his times in his attitude toward women and Meridian didn’t realize this until later. The author never tried to make Alden a romantic hero or a villain though there are times he feels like the latter as seen through Meridian’s eyes. They were woefully mismatched, but yet there was a connection that Meridian couldn’t and wouldn’t see because she never could reconcile after Alden took her dream away not even knowing the damage he did to their relationship because he didn’t understand how to be in a real relationship.
I found Meridian more fascinating in the end than the beginning which is how it was meant to be. In the beginning, as I made example of with her failings with Alden, she is intellectual, but not clear sighted. Her life events teach her that. First through her best friend Belle, then later friends, and a lover.
She is a renaissance woman and feels the constraints of her times, but it isn’t until later that she opens her wings and really flies.
The entrance of Clay was a mixed blessing for me. She’s a married woman, but yet I wanted her to feel what it was like to be appreciated and loved by a man like Clay. And he truly did. These two connected on all levels from the beginning. Clay was much younger, but his experiences gave him worldly wisdom and maturity to balanced out the age gap. He came a broken Vietnam war vet and she helped him heal and find direction just as much as he brought her back to life and taught her to stand hard on her convictions.
Oh the conflict I felt over her moment of choice especially with that added curve that came with it. I think the moment of choice was the crisis and high point of the book, and again, the author didn’t take the easy road. At that point in the story, yes, I was crying from the pain and wonder the author had me feeling. Meridian shines and she is bright in the end, but there is a lot of darkness around those stars.
I listened to this story in audio format. Jennifer Van Dyck was a new to me narrator. She did fantastic. From the beginning, she made all the details about the birds, Meridian’s monologues, and the cast of characters come alive. This could have been a really pedantic, boring story, but she had good inflection, timing, and connection to the story. I would definitely listen to more of her work.
So, what to say. Did I ultimately like this story? No. It broke my heart. Was I glad to have read it? Absolutely. It has left me pondering for days. Would I recommend it? Cautiously yes.
This will not be for everyone. This is for those who want a book that engages the thoughts more so than the emotions for most of the book, but there are those spikes where emotions are acute and they are not the light, fluffy kind. There is a sad, bittersweet quality to the story that only gets stronger, but there are flashes of heartwarming joy and peace. Not so much historical romance as historical fiction though the story focuses on her relationship with two men and the choice between them.
My thanks to Audible for the opportunity to listen to this book in exchange for an honest review.
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