Book review: Sweet Ruin

by DaniGirl on June 13, 2007 · 13 comments

in Books

Today, I’m hosting a stop on MotherTalk’s blog book tour for Cathi Hanauer’s Sweet Ruin. (Disclosure: this means I get a free copy of the book and a small honourarium from MotherTalk.)

This was almost a 10-pages-in book review, because coming into the weekend I just wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish it in time for my date on the bloggy book tour today. I have to admit, I was biased against the book as soon as it arrived. With it’s girly pink cover and saucily bared shoulder, this book screamed chick lit to me and I’ve never been able to warm up to chick lit. More accurately, I haven’t actually read any chick-lit, ever. Couldn’t bring myself to peruse Sophie Kinsella, or pick up a Helen Fielding. The closest I’ve come is Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, and I really don’t think you can call a book about a bounty hunter chick lit, can you?

Anyway, all that to say that I did in fact judge this book by its cover. Even when I started reading it, I found it hard to warm up to the protagonist. Elayna Leopold is a 35-year-old wealthy subarban mother to six-year-old Hazel, and as the book opens she is recovering from a two-year depression following the loss of her newborn son, Oliver. After his death, she finds she and her husband Paul are simply going through the motions of their former life, hollow and bereft. Strike two against this book. When I signed on to the MotherTalk book tour, I didn’t even know I was pregnant, and I almost stopped reading a few times last week just because I didn’t want to think about healthy pregnancies that end in neonatal death. Kind of interferes with my new no-worries attitude, ya know?

But, I kept reading. I’m glad I did. About half way through the book, something hooked me deeply and completely, and I tore through the rest of the pages with breathless curiousity. The story examines Elayna’s slow ascent from depression after the crushing loss of her son, and considers the eternal question of where the wife and mother ends and the woman begins. When she falls in lust for Kevin, the gorgeous 22-year-old artist across the street, she finds herself awakened and invigorated for the first time in years… and can I just take a moment here to say holy hell, does Hanauer ever know how to make a scene sizzle! Her descriptions of the magnetism of lust are evocative and breathtaking – literally.

Even though I never did warm up to Elayna’s complex character – and I admit that a lot of that is simply judgementalism on my part, as I could neither agree with nor understand many of the larger and smaller choices Elayna made – I do appreciate Hanauer’s impressive ability to flesh out a character. By far, the most interesting character in the book is Elayna’s six-year-old daughter Hazel, a red-haired bundle of fiery energy and attitude perched precariously between being mommy’s little girl and a preteen diva.

I found this book both compelling and hard to read. Hanauer is a good storyteller with a keen eye for detail and dialogue, and once the story starts moving it accelerates with the inevitability of a train wreck. You can see it coming, but you can’t look away. But that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the ride – I just watched cringing, through splayed fingers, hoping that in the end at least the damage would be minimal. I found myself at times completely wrapped up in the story, my own guilt at hiding upstairs in stolen moments to read a few pages woven seamlessly into Elayna’s guilt at her more dangerous choices. Mommy-guilt has more facets than I ever realized!

In addition to the story itself, this book had a few interesting features that I particularly liked. There were a handful of book club questions at the end, and an interview with the author that you can read on the Simon & Schuster Web site – but if you want to read the book, I’d wait and read them afterwards. It was satisfying to finish the book and then read the additional material with the story fresh in my mind, and I’ve always been interested in process when it comes to writing.

In the end, Sweet Ruin stayed just far enough on the literary side of chick lit to win my approval. While it had its racy and titillating moments, the depth of the characters and the complexity of the relationships was enough to both engage and satisfy me. I’d recommend it as an ideal summer beach book.

What are you reading this summer?

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Loukia June 13, 2007 at 3:16 pm

Good book review. However, due to my pregnancy hormones, I think I will pass reading this book this year!
This summer, I am doing a whole lot of light reading – I just finished Angela’s Ashes and am now in the middle of ‘Tis, with Teacher Man waiting to be read as soon as I’m done the last page of ‘Tis. Then I start reading A Thousand Splendid Suns and then Middlesex. Yeah, a whole lot of light reading for me!

2 Loukia June 13, 2007 at 4:50 pm

P.S. I still have not read Midwives but with my first pregnancy was told to not read it until after I had my baby so now I’m in the same boat, I’ll wait until January to read it. ๐Ÿ™‚

3 cait June 13, 2007 at 7:52 pm

FYI – Sophie Kinsella is hopeless drivel, or at least the one I got free with a magazine a couple of years ago was. But Bridget Jones’s Diary was really funny, and while not exactly intellectual, not so stupid that you want to bang your head against a wall.
Right now I’m in the middle of “A heartbreaking work of staggering genius”, which I’m enjoying, but can’t seem to concentrate on…soon to be followed by “Sweetness in the belly”. With a break in between for Harry Potter of course!

4 Loukia June 13, 2007 at 8:27 pm

The only really good book by Sophia Kinsella was the origial COnfessions of a Shopaholic. I remember reading that book and putting it down, and thinking, OMG. I am not the only one who is like this, who collects bags, who is THAT obsessed with shopping. I truly, truly loved that book. The others that followed just did nothing for me and I recently read Shopaholic and Baby and still, blah. Nothing like the first one.
Bridget Jones’s Diary was a great, fun read for sure! Not all chick-lit is that bad!

5 Kerry June 14, 2007 at 1:47 am

Oh! Sweetness in the Belly was so good! I LOVED that book (almost as much as The Kite Runner, and I know that Khaled Hosseini’s second book is on my list for this summer).
Yeah. Reading rocks.

6 Sharon June 14, 2007 at 3:00 am

Right now I’m Reading Prodigal Summer by
Barbara Kingsolver. Good BOOK. And YEAH READING Rocks In my world too.
I hope to read the LAST Harry Potter as soon as I can get my little hands on it.

7 hw June 14, 2007 at 1:31 pm

I’m having problems making a reading list because it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to get past the first chapter of a book. Nothing seems to grab me right now. The only books I’m actually getting through is reading Judy Blume’s Fudge series to the kids each night. Suggestions?
Middlesex, to the poster above, is a fabulous book that I just tore through and could have ignored the world for.
I’m thinking about picking up the Birth House.

8 trixie June 14, 2007 at 2:04 pm

Great review! I so totally want to be in your book club. And whenever you get around to writing one yourself, I want to be the girl who sits beside you at the “Meet the Author” book signing table to tell people to move it along. “Enough gushing, people, Danielle has a number of important engagements before leaving New York…” ๐Ÿ™‚

9 Loukia June 14, 2007 at 3:12 pm

Reading does rock, it’s my favourite pastime besides playing with my son. And he has a love of reading already too. Kerry I loved Kite Runner too and am looking forward to reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, too. I remember when I was in the hospital I brought 3 books with me, and the nurses all laughed. It took me a good 2 months before I actually did get around to reading them after giving birth! But now I’m back to normal with reading. Haha.

10 Loukia June 14, 2007 at 3:14 pm

hw – have you read The Glass Castle? I promise you won’t be bored and you’ll be hooked from the very first page, it’s a great, great true story. I couldn’t put it down.

11 Karen June 14, 2007 at 10:05 pm

Chick lit has lost it’s lustre for me too – although I did like Bridget Jones, and only the very first of the Shopaholic series.
I just finished reading Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures – a good read. And now I’ve started Brick Lane. We’ll see how it goes!

12 Karen June 14, 2007 at 10:06 pm

okay, I meant “its” lustre – how’d that apostrophe get in there?!

13 hw June 15, 2007 at 1:33 pm

Thanks, Loukia. I’ll check it out.

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