Saturday, March 8, 2014
'How Sweet the Sound' by Amy K Sorrells
A Southern Novel of Second Chances From a distance, the Harlans appear to be the perfect Southern family. Wealth and local fame mask the drama and dysfunction swirling through their family line. But as the summer heats up, a flood tide of long hidden secrets surface. Devastation from a rape followed by the murder of two family members brings three generations of the Harlans together on their pecan plantation in Bay Spring, Alabama. Chief among them is Anniston, who by the time she turned thirteen thought she’d seen it all. But as her heart awakens to the possibility of love, she begins to deal with her loneliness and grief. This tender coming-of-age tale, inspired by the story of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13, shows how true healing and hope comes only from God. Though our earthly family can wound and disappoint, our heavenly Father brings freedom to those long held captive through His mercy and grace.
This is a beautiful book which reminded me a little of a modern "To Kill a Mockingbird" with its similar deep south setting. The main character, Anniston, is a wise and perceptive young girl, a bit like Scout Finch. Her family, the Harlans, are the cream of the district, but hiding a terrible legacy like a simmering volcano, making us wonder when it will erupt, and what we will discover.
We quickly find out that it's partly based loosely on the Biblical story of King David's daughter, Tamar, with Anniston's Aunt Comfort as Tamar, and her brothers Cole and Rey (Anniston's father) taking Amnon and Absalom's roles.
The beautiful writing style is not to be skim read, as descriptions and observations are often symbolic of something occurring in the plot. A good example is Anniston's memories of her father's words, telling her why pecan growers need to be slow and leisurely, noticing the small things in life. Some of the treasures Jed gives her are also significant, such as the geode, which is ostentatious on the outside but a sparkling treasure within.
The story is full of interesting character studies. Princella, the grandmother, is a lady who reminds me of Cruella DeVil, but shows brief flashes of vulnerability. You can't help wondering at the magnitude of all she must keep hidden, and the final revelation inspires questions. She obviously thinks she'd put her past behind her and 'made it', yet the story is written so readers can't help reacting with repugnance at her unnatural behaviour, such as carrying on as usual when her two sons have just killed each other.
Even though the brothers were in the story for such a short time, they were well-rounded characters whose influence, either evil or good, never stopped. How sorry I felt about Rey's family losing him, even though he just had a few lines at the beginning of the story. We still get a sense of just what sort of a man he was, which was excellent writing.
When we do learn Princella's secret, we can't help wondering whether we've just made the crime of judging by appearances, since we were unaware of the depth of her past hurt until then, not that this consideration makes us like her any better. Her personality was warped by events from her past. Yet other characters, such as Jed, have chosen to react completely differently to a traumatic past. And much of the story deals with Comfort, and whether or not she will let pain overwhelm her or find a way to push through.
It's an engrossing read which I recommend. The horror and tragedy is matched just as hugely by hope and heroism. For every Cole or Jimmy presented, there's a Solly or Jed to balance him out. We are left with beautiful images, such as when the children saved the fish.
And like all good books, there's something for the reader to take away for themselves. One of my favourites was Ernestine telling Anni about Jacob's ladder and reminding her to look for the ladders in her own life, 'places where the sky opens and you can feel angels pulling pain outta your soul and replacing it with a song.'
I received a copy from NetGalley and David C Cook in return for an honest review.
How Sweet the Sound: A Novel available from Amazon