Saturday, March 7, 2015

'All She Ever Wanted' by Lynn Austin


Thirty-five years ago Kathleen fled her home, desperate to cast off weights of poverty and shame. But an unexpected invitation from her sister unwittingly draws her back to that sleepy New York town, her own daughter in tow.

A trip meant to salvage her relationship with her daughter changes course as Kathleen reexamines her own childhood. But even more enlightening are the stories of Eleanor, her once-vibrant mother, and Fiona, the grandmother she barely knew.

The more Kathleen learns, the more answers she seeks concerning her family's mysterious past. Yet with the past exposed, Kathleen is torn between her need to forgive and the urge to forget.


This story focuses on four generations of women in a family line. Each deplored her mother and resolved to be completely different. The passage of time hid the fact that they were all most alike, especially in their decisions to sever all ties with their families. Kathleen, who is number three in the pattern, realises that her relationship with her teenage daughter, Joelle, seems to be heading the same way. She delves into their past and becomes aware of the trend, arming her with understanding and knowledge to end the process.

After a lot of thought, I realised the captivating quality of this story is because it is told backwards in time instead of chronologically. That's enough to add depth and mystery. We're already aware of the results of each woman's choices, and just need to find out how they got there. From Kathleen's own sad background we're drawn back to the pasts of her mother, Eleanor, and grandmother, Fiona, through the memories of others. Delving into several characters' lives at different stages can be as fascinating as time travel stories.

I love the massive bombshell twists. One major one got me wishing I could take back some of the tears I cried, and then made me wish I'd cried them for a different reason.

At first, my biggest gripe was being unable to perceive a male character as a clear role model to admire. Donald, Leonard, Rick, Howard, Rory, Arthur, Lorenzo. There is a long line of despicables. I was glad when a couple from that list grew on me as the story progressed, especially the one whose past was unraveled the same time as his sister's.

It's interesting to see how history is shown to have a major role in shaping characters, rather than rolling off like water from a duck's back. Kathleen was a product of the political uneasiness of the volatile '60s. Eleanor's story took place in the WW2 era, and Fiona's in the roaring '20s, with flappers and speakeasies.

I didn't always approve of characters' decisions to turn their backs. I can understand Fiona's position, but wished Eleanor and Kathleen could have shown a bit more grace. The fact that Kathleen never once wanted to find out what became of her brothers and sister didn't sit easy with me - like abandonment. She just decided she was better than they were, and took off! I thought her family were most magnanimous in opening their arms to accept her back in the fold after the way she treated them. Yet it reminds us we're all in need of grace and forgiveness at times, for a lot less. It's good to come across stories in which it is offered freely, helping us to offer it to ourselves.

4 stars

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