Robert Elmer unfolds a poignant, discussable and controversial story with heavy pro-life themes of a middle-aged man looking for a new challenge, a 44-year-old mother and wife who faces a terrible choice, and their 23-year-old adopted son who is returning home after a tour in Iraq that has left him broken in spirit.
The story begins slowly as Elmer sets up the plot and uses different points of view to help the reader understand each character. Merit Sullivan and her husband Will have been married almost 24 years, and their two young elementary-aged daughters, Abby and Olivia, have never known life outside the San Francisco Bay area. Michael, the oldest, is grieving the events of his duty overseas, working in an auto repair shop and trying to decide what to do next.
When Merit and Will buy a decrepit resort in Kokanee Cove, situated on a lake in Idaho, it seems at first that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. It doesn’t help to have Merit’s estranged sister Sydney, an odd, militia-ish woman with numerous cats, living close by in her circa-1950s Airstream trailer with a yard full of countless whirligigs and wind chimes. But they find instant rapport and love for the 20-year-old homeschooled, ornithology-minded Stephanie Unruh, who is still living with her parents in Kokanee Cove and wondering what she wants to do with her life. Stephanie immediately takes on some of the work at the resort, helping the Sullivans get the business off the ground even as an unexpected tragic event threatens to derail the Sullivans’ new life in Kokanee Cove almost before it gets started.
Although they don’t always work well in novels, an added bonus in this one is the well-chosen pithy epigrams that begin each chapter. (My favorite: “I went to the general store. They wouldn’t let me buy anything, specifically.” - Steven Wright.) But there are some trouble spots. A key plot element involving an unborn baby and the need for the mother to have immediate medical treatment will be a good discussion starter among Christians. Is it pro-life to consider the mother’s life as well as the baby’s? Or is abortion wrong under any circumstance? It’s a complicated issue, and although Elmer’s characters take the “abortion is wrong under all circumstances, including when the life of the mother is involved” approach to it, not all evangelical Christians will agree.
Elmer knows how to create a lovely sense of place and makes Kokanee Cove seem so beautiful that readers will be tempted to get out their guidebooks and make travel plans (and yes, it’s a real vacation destination). In Stephanie, Elmer has created a particularly likable character, with her lack of pretension and love for birds.
Unfortunately, Elmer resorts to stereotypes: the liberal, the bad-boy media, or the sister who is over-the-top environmentally obnoxious, making it seem as if all environmentalism is a left-wing agenda (even as Elmer is painting beautiful portraits of creation throughout his story). Some repetition mars the prose, and a main-line Lutheran denomination is seemingly portrayed as less-than-satisfactory than a more evangelical church. This is a too-easy tactic --- the liberals versus the conservatives --- and disappointingly a big departure from his novels THE DUET and THE RECITAL.
However, Elmer’s poignant tale of a middle-aged couple’s move out of the city to a small mountain town, and their surprising tragic dilemma, should appeal to conservative Christians, even if other readers of faith find it more didactic than his previous novels.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on June 19, 2007