In this brilliant, luminous novel, one of our finest realist writers gives us a story of surpassing depth and emotional power. Acclaimed for her lucid and compassionate exploration of the American family, Roxana Robinson sets her new work on familiar terrain—New York City and the Adirondacks—but with Sweetwater she transcends the particulars of the domestic sphere with a broader, more encompassing vision. In this poignant account of a young widow and her second marriage, Robinson expands her scope to include the larger natural world as well as the smaller, more intimate one of the home.
Isabel Green’s marriage to Paul Simmons, after the death of her first husband, marks her reconnection to life—a venture she’s determined will succeed. But this proves to be harder than she’d anticipated, and the challenges of starting afresh seem more complicated in adulthood. Staying at the Simmons lodge for their annual summer visit, Isabel finds herself entering into a set of familial complexities. She struggles to understand her new husband, his elderly, difficult parents and his brother, whose relationship with Paul seems oddly fraught. Furthermore, her second marriage begins to cast into sharp relief the troubling echoes of her first. Isabel’s professional life plays a part as well: a passionate environmental advocate, she is aware of the tensions within the mountain landscape itself during a summer of spectacular beauty and ominous drought.
In her cool, elegant prose, Robinson gracefully delivers a plot that is complex, surprising and ultimately wrenching in its impact. As the strands of family are woven tightly and inevitably together, and as the past painfully informs the present, the vivid backdrop of the physical world provides its own eloquent dynamic. Sweetwater is a stunning achievement by a writer at the peak of her craft.
A starred or boxed review indicates a book of outstanding quality. A review with a blue-tinted title indicates a book of unusual commercial interest that hasn't received a starred or boxed review.SWEETWATERRoxana Robinson. Random, (320p) XIn four previous works of fiction, Robinson established herself as an astute and sensitive chronicler of domestic tensions, particularly among affluent families in wealthy enclaves of Manhattan and exclusive summer abodes. Here she broadens her canvas to introduce larger social issues tied (sometimes a bit too blatantly) to the ways her characters behave. A widow for two years, 47-year-old Isabel Green marries her ardent suitor, Paul Simmons, hoping that her affection for him will turn into love. During a visit to Sweetwater Lodge, the Simmons family's lakeside compound in the Adirondacks, she meets Paul's cold, disapproving parents, Douglas and Charlotte ("handsome, implacable... like a pair of raptors"), and his bachelor brother, Whit, with whom Paul maintains a vicious sibling rivalry. Fundamental issues soon convince Isabel that her marriage is a dreadful mistake. A committed environmentalist, she becomes embroiled in an argument with Douglas, who scorns environmental programs as impediments to progress. To complicate matters, Isabel and Whit acknowledge the passion that attracts them to each other. Meanwhile, flashbacks reveal the events of Isabel's first marriage and the way her husband died, leaving her guilt-stricken. At this point, nature intervenes in the form of a forest fire that threatens the lodge and its inhabitants, and motivates a wrenching, potentially lethal family drama. Although Sweetwater Lodge succumbs to the winds of change, Isabel is granted a life-affirming insight. Readers may feel that Robinson wraps things up too neatly, but the novel succeeds as a moving study of a woman's emergence from a suffocating life.