Review

Woman in Red

by Eileen Goudge

The
past weighs heavily on this contemporary novel set on an island in
the Pacific Northwest. Alice Kessler returns to her hometown after
nine years in prison to try to mend her relationship with her
teenaged son Jeremy. At the same time New York lawyer Colin McGill
arrives with similar hopes of healing from alcoholism and grief,
and decides to stay on in his recently deceased grandfather
William's old house. The portrait of a beautiful woman in red hangs
there, a testament both to William's artistic talent and also of
his clandestine love for Alice's grandmother Eleanor.

Alice, whose crime of passion was perpetrated on the powerful mayor
Owen White, faces an uphill battle in being accepted by her old
friends and neighbors. Alice had seen Owen's car strike her first
son, killing him, but no one else had. Young Jeremy was in the
vehicle with her when, overcome with rage, she ran Owen down
following the trial in which Owen was acquitted. "Alice had no
awareness of her foot pressing down on the gas pedal; it was as if
the car were being propelled by a force beyond her control."

Now, nine years later, Owen is in a wheelchair but still holds all
the cards, including that of blackmail over the local chief of
police, who also happens to be Alice's brother-in-law. It's a small
island, and people are connected not only by current threads but
also secrets from their ancestor's past that come to light as the
novel unfolds.

Alice opens a restaurant, while Colin decides to revive an oyster
farm. Their relationship, tentative at first (she doesn't need the
complication, she tells herself, and he doesn't need the emotional
challenge to his hard-won sobriety), gathers steam as she enlists
his lawyerly services for her son Jeremy, who is brought up on a
rape charge after consensual sex at a party. Jeremy, who has held
his mother at arm's length, now turns to her in his hour of
need.

Alice's big old African-American prison friend Calpernia shows up
to help out at the restaurant. She believes in Alice and also
imports her uncle and his magic rib recipe, which not even stuffy
islanders can resist. Even her ex-husband starts to come around.
But by then, we know Alice is eternally smitten by Colin, even if
she won't admit it. "She shivered, feeling tiny sparks ignite under
the skin where he'd grazed it." Those tiny sparks are a dead
giveaway. The old ex doesn't have a chance. 

Points of view change with the chapters, between Colin, Alice,
Jeremy and Owen in the present day, and between the grandparents
William and Eleanor in World War II. (Owen gets short shrift
though, just enough time to establish that he really is a
power-hungry, guilt-ridden baddie.) I liked the subplot of Jeremy's
teen life, and I thought the extrication from his rape charge was
well done. As we become acquainted with the characters and their
stories, mysteries reveal themselves, and even Owen's grandfather
horns in (as a villain, of course.) The plot is nicely layered and
connected, with some good twists and turns along the way. Needless
to say, love and Alice prevail in the end.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on January 24, 2011

Woman in Red
by Eileen Goudge

  • Publication Date: June 12, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vanguard Press
  • ISBN-10: 1593154445
  • ISBN-13: 9780739484739