In her poignant yet gritty first novel, HOME ANOTHER WAY, Christa Parrish tells the moving story of one woman’s healing from the scars of her past.
Parrish sets her saga in the hardscrabble mountain town of Jonah, New York, where the tough-as-nails divorcée Sarah Graham reluctantly goes to claim her inheritance. It is left to her by her now-deceased, estranged father, who she was told murdered her mother when she was a baby. Broke, exhausted and out of options, Sarah is forced to accept the terms of her father’s will. She must live in his simple house in Jonah for six months, after which she’ll receive $80,000.
Angry and frustrated, Sarah feels trapped. Sleeping with any man who’s handy is the only way Sarah has been able to shut off the pain she feels. In Jonah, her options are limited. Her rudeness rebuffs the townspeople, who inexplicably revere the memory of her father. Bored, she takes a part-time job checking in on Doc White’s patients in the mountains, many mired in poverty and ignorance. As she gets to know some of the proud mountain people, her barriers start to break down. It’s only the beginning. When Sarah finds and begins playing her father’s old violin, more fissures form in her protective shell. A poverty-stricken, middle-aged and obese woman named Memory, who serves as one “wise sage,” tells Sarah, “I know you been trying real hard not to get close to no one. But things ain’t always up to you, and sometimes you don’t got no choice in the matter.”
What sets Parrish’s novel apart are her beguiling descriptions and careful word choices. “It took me by complete surprise, how Memory and I had knotted ourselves together, one Sunday at a time one argument at a time --- knit one, purl two --- until we’d tangled ourselves into some ugly granny-square afghan, with misshapen edges and dropped stitches throughout.” Beautifully said. Parrish knows how to give her readers just enough background information about her characters to keep the pages turning, but without holding so much back that the audience feels cheated or becomes frustrated. Varying points of view (including using first person only for Sarah) help flesh out the characters. As Sarah’s story unfolds, we discover a childhood full of emotional abuse by her grandmother (“She called me her burden; She said I was her constant reminder that she raised her daughter to be a whore.”) and complicated and often checkered pasts for the people of Jonah.
Parrish also includes a nice balance of sexual tension throughout. Reverend Jack, who longs to help Sarah recover her faith in God and in herself, finds himself drawn to Sarah for more personal reasons. “He was attracted to her. And he was lonely. Lord forgive him, he was lonely.” But he knows that “Sarah was looking for something, and it certainly wasn’t Jesus.” Sarah finds herself falling for the Reverend and trying to seduce him --- the only way she has ever known to interact with men. She reflects: “Every time Jack and I spoke, I tore off a piece of myself and gave it to him…. Eventually, if I let him, he’d have all of me. And no one had ever known me like that.”
If there’s a fault with the plot line, it might be the amount of human tragedy, which is almost too much for one novel to hold. Jack’s sister is brutally scarred from a tragic fire, Jack’s twin brother drowned as an adolescent, Memory nurses her adult son, brutally injured in an accident and supposedly brain dead, and desperate and unrelenting poverty envelops the town. Those are just for starters. But, despite many of the darker themes, there is plenty of humor, especially in the interactions between Memory and Sarah. (“You think it’s fitting to eat deviled eggs on the Lord’s Day?”).
Parrish has peopled her novel with engaging, interesting characters, from old Doc White who has his own skeletons rattling around in a closet to the mountain folks who are lightly sketched. She adeptly avoids the clichéd happily-ever-after ending while still leaving the reader satisfied. Hopefully we’ll hear more from the talented Parrish.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on October 1, 2008