Set on the coast of Maine, over the course of four summers, Red Hook Road tells the story of two families, the Tetherlys and the Copakens, and of the ways in which their lives are unraveled and stitched together by misfortune, by good intentions and failure, and by love and calamity.
Our story begins with the wedding of Rebecca (Becca) Copaken and John Tetherly. We see each of the participants through the eye of the photographer—almost as if we’re looking through the shutter as he lines them all up for the perfect moments. His view also catches the little imperfections, like the tan lines that show beneath the bride’s beaded bodice; or the groom’s steel-framed glasses; or the tense expression on the bride’s mother’s face. A flower girl’s lost basket and the search for it consume precious moments. As he arranges and rearranges the family members, trying for those perfect shots, his actions can almost be seen as a metaphor for what defines each of these people.
For the Copakens and the Tetherlys stand on opposite poles, as representatives of the “from away” or summer people and the year long residents—the “haves” and the “have-nots.” That these two opposing elements should come together in marriage grates at each of the mothers. They try to be civil to one another, and in the subsequent moments of this day, their lives will be forever linked.
For in just a short time, nothing about that day will seem as important as the tragic accident on Red Hook Road that forever alters each of their lives.
As the author leads us up to the moments when we see the tragedy unfolding, we are also granted peeks into what formed each of them, with their histories and their defining moments. I like the way she gradually reveals bits and pieces of each of their lives, which she does over the course of the novel. We come to know the characters, with their flaws, their strengths, and even their personal disappointments. She portrays it all almost as if a movie reel is unwinding. By the time we have watched how each character acts and reacts over the course of the four summers, we feel as though we know them, inside and out.
We do not see the intervening months between summers, except sometimes in flashbacks. Almost like a predictable routine, the characters come together, over and over, reliving the first tragic summer, and even attempting to live out the dreams of the missing characters, as when Matt, the groom’s brother, spends time and money he doesn’t have trying to finish building a wooden boat that John began.
I like this quote, which sums up a lot of the hopes and dreams of the characters: “Why invest countless hours, years, and dollars of planing and carving, gluing and fastening, caulking and fairing, when a fiberglass boat can be had at a fraction of the cost? Why struggle to maintain love and commitment over decades when there were far easier ways to live, ones that required no effort or attention to prevent corrosion and rot? Why continue to pour your heart into these obsolete arts? Because their beauty, the way they connect you to your history and to the living world, justifies your efforts.”
When I turned the final page, I really wanted the story to continue. I hope it does, in some form, because the characters grew on me, and their situations were real and poignant. This is a five star read that I highly recommend.
This book was an Advanced Reader’s Copy.