In the beginning of TARA ROAD, Maeve Binchy's latest novel, a fortuneteller named Mrs. Conner makes several predictions about Ria Lynch's life. Her seemingly far-fetched revelations make little sense to Ria at the time, and she simply laughs them off. Oh, Ria, you should pay more attention, girl. Mrs. Conner is trying to tell you that the only thing predictable about life is that it will always be unpredictable, no matter how certain things seem to be. And, during the course of TARA ROAD, everyone linked to this Dublin address will learn that lesson well.
Ria and Danny Lynch have a wonderful life, including two terrific children, Annie and Brian, and a beautiful home on Tara Road in a stylish section of Dublin. Everything seems perfect; in fact, Ria believes her happy marriage is so solid that she wants another baby. But there's one problem: Danny is already about to become a father again, courtesy of his pregnant twentysomething girlfriend. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ocean, Marilyn Vine of Connecticut is grieving for her 16-year-old son Dale, who died in a motorcycle accident. She has closed herself off from everyone, especially her husband who has retreated to Hawaii on business. A chance phone call introduces Ria and Marilyn, and the two decide to exchange houses for the summer. Both hope the change of scenery will help them to heal.
By exchanging their homes, Ria and Marilyn, in effect, also exchange "lives." Both become involved with the other's family, friends, and neighbors. In the U.S., Ria blossoms as an independent woman. She takes computer classes and does some catering, establishing roots for her own future business career. She also finds new romance with Marilyn's brother-in-law. Marilyn, unable to even speak Dale's name before her trip, finds healing in a most unexpected way by spending time with Ria's teenage children in Dublin. By living in each other's worlds for a while, both women learn more about themselves and also learn a secret about the other that they must keep at all costs.
A rich supporting cast of characters rounds out TARA ROAD and supplies several interesting subplots that also point out the unpredictability of life. Rosemary is a successful career woman who had expected to marry young, but never marries at all. Although she's Ria's best friend, she betrays her in the worst possible way --- and no one, not even Ria, sees it coming. Gertie is a battered wife who just can't break free from her abusive husband, Jack, until the unexpected happens. Sheila, Gertie's sister, lives in the States but comes home to Dublin to visit. For her, Ireland is no longer what she remembers --- yes, even countries can go through surprising, unpredictable changes.
TARA ROAD is a moving, totally involving, and haunting story. It reminds us all that life can change in a heartbeat. It is also a testament to the healing power of new friendships and the knowledge that we are all connected to one another by virtue of our common human condition. Binchy is an extraordinary storyteller, who creates realistic, well-drawn characters with whom readers can identify. In TARA ROAD, she explores new territory by setting part of the novel in the U.S. Unlike many of her previous novels, this one is set in contemporary times, and Binchy is thereby able to explore new territory in Ireland as well. It's the '80s and '90s, divorce has come to Ireland, and attitudes are changing about things like contraception and unwed motherhood.
No need to consult Mrs. Conner or any other psychic about the future of Binchy's latest --- it is destined to become a bestseller. It is Maeve Binchy at her best, and any reader who decides to stop by and visit TARA ROAD will find it a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience.
Reviewed by J.M. Higgins on July 18, 2000