Blog Tour: Sweet Ruin by Cathi Hanauer
posted by Sheri

I just finished reading Sweet Ruin in the nick of time for the MotherTalk blog tour (nothing like the sweet last minute!).

So many aspects of this novel got inside my head. And I know this because I had several vivid dreams about the book over the course of the week in which I was reading it. Overall, I related with loads of it, believed most of it, and became wholly engaged with its characters. And here's a bit of what I loved:

The Deep Loneliness: We really got inside loneliness in this book, the deep loneliness of the personas many of us assume—some characters in this novel holding steady in multiple categories—as grievers, mothers, fathers, caretakers, spouses, by-choice singles, artists, and even professionals. In all the personas we take on in our lives, we are so entirely alone at times, if not always, and this book meandered through the gritty details of the loneliness in all of them.

The Passion Seeking: In response to all the loneliness came an awful lot of passion seeking—through infidelity, work, nature, art, freedom, and so on. I found it most fascinating and realistic the way the characters sought out passion and purpose, never reaching for the closest person to them but instead seeking otherness. Elayna to Kevin rather than Paul, Hazel to her grandfather rather than her mother, Paul to a man on death row rather than Elayna, and so on. It's as if to say that intimacy and vulnerability are most difficult to explore with those closest to us because we have so much at stake. And as if to point out that this is why we tend to seek passion in the new and unknown.

Here's a quote from the novel:

"There are many ways to find passion, to be transported. It doesn't have to disappear as you age, settle down—and in fact, maybe the older and more settled you get, the more places you learn to find it. And you learn which ones you can go to, and which ones you can't. I'm still learning, every day. The smell of a lily, the crack of a bat against a ball, the sound of a lone, muted trumpet in the night…those are all yes. In a pull of cold water, in watching a young couple kiss. All the things I already had."

The Natural World: Hanauer effortlessly infuses nature, poetry, and literature throughout this novel. I have to say I felt like this inclusion really forwarded the story and kept me plugging along, even in the scariest of places. I loved how snippets of relevant literature and poetry really grounded us in Elayna's character. I most enjoyed watching the natural world exploding along with Elayna's emotional world.

Wanted to Hate But Liked Anyway: I really, really wanted to hate the predictability of this book. The fact that you knew everything horrible that was going to happen before the character did. The way you felt sometimes like you were in a semi truck with no brakes. But, in fact, this worked wonders in the novel, and was most surely the author's intention. It added to the complexity of Elayna's denial that would take her down the sometimes unbearable path to a new beginning.

It was a perfect week for me to read this novel about a works-at-home mother and a works-too-much father (although more about infidelity and rebirth after grieving). My husband was out of town for work this week, and I was really feeling the pressure of going motherhood alone while working at home for a few days and nights, and the book explored many aspects of this. However, unlike Elayna, the novel's protagonist, I have to say I haven't felt even a pinch of loneliness (more like seeking aloneness) nor did I have the energy or wherewithal to engage in a steamy tryst. Of course, unlike Elayna, I'm also not in the middle of some love affair with my own emerging butterfly-esque physical beauty. God! If she passed a mirror one more time and talked about how hot she was… I guess some women go through this, and good for them. But come on already with the constant exercise, the on and on banter about never being hungry, and the incessant drooling over her own hot bod in every mirror she encountered!

Anyway, check it out. Sweet Ruin. Sweet summer read.