Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Book Review: "The Ramblers" by Aidan Donnelley Rowley

The Ramblers Aidan Donelley Rowley
Published: February 9, 2016
ISBN: 9780062413314
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, stories about mental illness, stories about families, Autumn in New York

Summary:
Set in the most magical parts of Manhattan—the Upper West Side, Central Park, Greenwich Village—The Ramblers explores the lives of three lost souls, bound together by friendship and family. During the course of one fateful Thanksgiving week, a time when emotions run high and being with family can be a mixed blessing, Rowley’s sharply defined characters explore the moments when decisions are deliberately made, choices accepted, and pasts reconciled.

Clio Marsh, whose bird-watching walks through Central Park are mentioned in New York Magazine, is taking her first tentative steps towards a relationship while also looking back to the secrets of her broken childhood. Her best friend, Smith Anderson, the seemingly-perfect daughter of one of New York’s wealthiest families, organizes the lives of others as her own has fallen apart. And Tate Pennington has returned to the city, heartbroken but determined to move ahead with his artistic dreams.


Rambling through the emotional chaos of their lives, this trio learns to let go of the past, to make room for the future and the uncertainty and promise that it holds. The Ramblers is a love letter to New York City—an accomplished, sumptuous novel about fate, loss, hope, birds, friendship, love, the wonders of the natural world and the mysteries of the human spirit.

My Thoughts:
There is a certain sub-sub-sub-genre of books that I rarely enjoy but always find myself reading--the stories of unsettled but privileged no longer young but not yet middle-aged New Yorkers.  The Ramblers falls squarely into that group but, luckily, it fares better in my estimation than most.

I really enjoyed Rowley's writing style.  She stayed away from being cloying or patronizing (something I frequently find in books such as this).  She also beautifully recreated "Autumn in New York," which is a bit of a fantasy of mine.  I've only been to New York City, and that was in the Spring, so the idea of Autumn in New York symbolizes all sorts of wonderfulness for me and, on this, Rowley does not disappoint.

The real strength of this book is Rowley's ability to build characters.  The three main characters are all well drawn, with Clio standing out the most.  Clio is a wounded woman--the wounds from her childhood are still fresh and she is dealing with a recent tragedy while, at the same time, contemplating her future.  Her story could have come across as maudlin, but instead it is nuanced.  I wasn't sure as I read where Clio would ultimately find herself at the end of the book, which was a nice surprise (more often than not, I can call an ending by the time I'm halfway through the book).

The other stories in the book involve Clio's roommate and college friend Smith and Tate, someone Smith casually knew in college and has recently met again.  I liked both these characters and I felt that both had a great deal of potential, but Rowley doesn't seem to give them the same depth that she does Clio.

And this was my problem with this book...I felt it should have been two books.  As much as I enjoyed Clio's story, I believe Rowley could have gone deeper and further developed it.  Smith and Tate's story could have stood on its own with a little fleshing-out.  Moreover, I never felt that Clio's story entwined enough with Smith's or Tate's to warrant it being in the same book. Finally, because these stories were not especially related and never really came together, there wasn't a unifying them in this novel.

I'm not sure that my complaint about this book are exactly a drawback for it.  What I'm saying is that I liked what was in this book enough that I wanted there to be more, for Rowley to go deeper.  I am impressed by this debut effort and am very interested in reading more by Rowley in the future.  As for this book, I would still recommend it to people who are interested in stories similar to this.

About the Author: 
Born and raised in New York City, Aidan Donnelley Rowley is a graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School, but her dream (long unconscious) was always to write. She is the author of a novel, Life After Yes; blogs at IvyLeagueInsecurities.com; contributes to The Huffington Post; and is the founder and curator of the popular Happier Hours Literary Salons. The middle of five sisters, she lives in New York with her husband and three young daughters. (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)

I was given a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.



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