Nicholas Evans's new book, THE DIVIDE, may turn out to be one of my favorite books of the year. The story is that of the Cooper family --- Ben, Sarah, Abbie and Josh --- who start out as a typically happy middle class family, until a series of events tears them apart.
The title has a dual meaning. In addition to being the name of the ranch where the Coopers visited for two weeks each summer, the book's title also represents the divide between men and women, which is portrayed in the unraveling of the Cooper family's marriage. The lives of their loved ones are torn apart by this separation, which in turn leads to the more devastating destruction of their daughter, Abbie.
At the start of the novel, two skiers find the body of a young woman embedded in the ice of a remote mountain creek. The police work throughout the night to dig her out. She is later identified as Abbie Cooper, who was wanted by the FBI for murder and acts of eco-terrorism.
The book then proceeds to tell the story of Abbie's family, beginning with Ben and Sarah, their courtship and eventual union. Ben, who has been unhappy for a long time, knows his love for Sarah is not enough to keep the marriage going and therefore announces his decision to leave the family. The "catalyst," as Ben tells Sarah, is Eve, a lovely woman whom they had met at the Divide the last year they vacationed there. While at first Eve was sought out as a friend, she is now the enemy.
Ben's wife and children react a lot more unfavorably than he had anticipated, and each handles his or her grief in slightly different ways. Sarah grows angry and resentful, while son Josh becomes distant. Abbie, who was Ben's favorite, turns her anger toward her father into something destructive and exhibits behavior that is out of control.
The year of her parents' separation, Abbie begins her freshman year at a college in Montana (against their wishes) and finds her interests focused on groups that lead radical protests at major political events. But when she meets a man introduced to her as Rolf, Abbie's life takes an even more dangerous turn as she becomes involved in his treacherous attempts to bring attention to his causes, burning down buildings for the sake of his beliefs.
THE DIVIDE tells two stories --- the breakdown of a marriage, and the destruction of a young girl full of promise. Abbie's story is heartbreaking and tragic, which will prompt readers to ask themselves, "Whose fault is this?" While the bulk of the novel is told in flashbacks, Evans does allow his characters to resolve their issues, giving closure to the mystery of Abbie's death, as well as resolution to Ben and Sarah's relationship.
Like the authors' previous work --- THE HORSE WHISPERER, THE SMOKE JUMPER and THE LOOP --- much of the story is set in Montana, which Evans describes beautifully. In the opening pages readers can see, and feel, the setting. This continues throughout the pages and there are times where the landscape almost becomes a character as much as a place.
Nicholas Evans writes emotion with extraordinary candor. Woven in the story is a stark look at what marriage means and the differences between men and women. Beyond this, Evans is a great storyteller. You will close this book wanting to talk about it. If this book doesn't pick up new fans for Evans's work, I would be greatly surprised. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton on January 11, 2011