In Search of Eden
Flawed characters looking for redemption and learning forgiveness populate the novels of Linda Nichols. IN SEARCH OF EDEN continues her favorite themes.
Miranda Isabella DeSpain regrets giving up her baby for adoption under pressure from her tyrannical mother. She drifts from town to town, never willing to commit to anything for long and always wondering what could have been. When she begins a search for her child in earnest, she ends up in Abingdon, Virginia, where romance sparks between her and Joseph, a local policeman. Joseph is suspicious of Miranda, especially when a fraud ring begins bilking the locals. Could Miranda be involved? He's not sure, but although his head tells him to move slowly, his heart tells him otherwise. Which will he listen to?
Nichols has put together a cast of characters haunted by ghosts from their pasts. Joseph still carries wounds from his brother, who betrayed him by getting his girlfriend pregnant and marrying her. Miranda desperately looks for the child she gave up under duress. Her perfectionist mother, who caused Miranda so much pain in her childhood and teen years, was stalked by her own dark past, as Miranda discovers once she goes in search of her heritage. David, Joseph's brother, carries tremendous guilt over the wrong he's done to his Joseph.
More angst from the past: David's wife and Joseph's former girlfriend, Sarah, is blocked from loving her daughter, Eden, because of her own fears and old failures. In one particularly beautiful passage, we read:
"She stood in the hallway and listened, and it was almost as if she could hear the old house breathe, and she fancied a what if…. What if she could stop time, could turn back all their breaths until things were at the beginning place again. She could undo all this, but even as she thought it, she knew that would mean no sweet years as well as no bitter ones…. Even as she had named their daughter Eden, she had given voice to that wish. She had been searching all her life for the way back to that place. But she knew the truth now…. There was no going back."
Family secrets, the backbone of many a good novel, serve as the axis around which the story revolves. As Miranda muses, "Everyone had a right to know their roots, no matter how unpleasant an experience it was for the guardians of the secrets."
There are a few trouble spots, including the reliance of clichés (a drunk driving accident, which is a staple in Christian fiction), the overuse of the word "she" beginning consecutive sentences, and a problem with consistency (Miranda's mother has breast cancer in the beginning, referred to as lung cancer later in the book). The reader must also suspend disbelief as the book comes to a close, and several characters separated by the passage of years are thrown together.
However, as she did in IF I GAINED THE WORLD and AT THE SCENT OF WATER, Nichols admirably shows how even the most seemingly unforgivable sins can be redeemed, and how understanding a person's past can illuminate their actions and lead to forgiveness. Readers will especially enjoy the delightful character of Eden, an unusually self-aware 11-year-old who steals the novel. There are also some enjoyable scenes, such as Miranda trying to hold down a job at Mice B Gone Exterminators, which ensures some good laughs for anyone who has ever worked a distasteful job because they were out of other options.
Most of all, readers in search of reminders of grace for their own brokenness and mistakes will find comfort within these pages.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011