Friday, April 3, 2009
Tower of Strength
You know the saying 'Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans.' It's like we have two versions of our lives: the one we want and plan for, and the one that happens. And sometimes, boy does it happen.
I have a lot of compassion for those whose hearts break. I understand the fortitude it takes to sweep shattered shards of heartstrings into a corner of your soul and gather up your skirts to keep going for the sake of the children. I know how hard it is to hold back tears until a time when no one else will see you cry. I know what it means to do the best you can with what you've been given and still have others (who are supposed to love you) disapprove and condemn. I know how it feels to be an outsider, the 'new girl', and the one with 'a story'. I know how it feels to finally feel as though things might just start looking up in life, only to have a different corner come crashing down.
I feel like I know Tabitha.
Tabitha is one of the 'towers of strength' from Annette Lyon's enthralling newly-released novel, delicately set against the backdrop of the construction of the Manti Temple. She was a very young bride, to an older man whose mother never approved of their marriage to begin with. To make matters worse, Tabitha's husband dies tragically in a mining accident on the very day he comes to work with news that they are expecting their first child together. She has no choice but to carry on, despite her young age and her inexperience. And carry on she does. She goes to school, she makes a living for herself and her little boy, and then an opportunity presents itself to move back to the town she and her husband came from, the town where her deceased husband's mother still lives. And that is both a blessing and a curse. For sure, it is a test.
Tabitha is faced with many choices: should she move back home? Should she take over the town's cherished newspaper, even though she's a woman and might not be accepted? Should she tell the truth when the truth needs to be told? Should she open her heart again to possible loss?
These are difficult questions to answer in real life, but in the pages of a novel, they require excessive care. Those who have endured such losses and setbacks in life can see right through phony conflict and condescending resolution. An author must be careful with such emotionally charged issues so as not to lose the reader's trust. An author must speak to the reader's heart, while still preserving the integrity of the characters' turmoil. Annette accomplished this balance beautifully, and I commend her. Tabitha's struggle was true-to-life, and I also appreciated the humanity of the "bad" characters. Annette was able to present hardened hearts and critical voices for what they are: hurting individuals. Even mean people have soft spots, and life is really one giant symbiotic relationship. We all have an opportunity, every day, to help another rise from personal despair.
And of course, the heroic men of the story, past and present, were wonderfully crafted, dreamy, and just-right rugged. I know that Annette has herself a fine husband, and that's got to be how she knows what a good one should look like to the reader.
Being asked to read and review Tower of Strength for Annette was indeed a rare privilege for me. Annette is my friend through Blog Land, though we haven't had the chance to meet in person yet. She is accomplished as a mother, wife, knitter, chocolate connoisseur, and writer. Everything she does, she does with class and style. She was awarded Utah's Best in State Fiction in 2007 and was also a Whitney Award finalist for her 5th novel, Spires of Stone. It's really no wonder.
I was swept along in Tower of Strength. Fans of Lund's The Work and the Glory series will appreciate this novel, as will, I dare say, fans of Little House on the Prairie. It's a great love story, and a story of courage. Anyone interested in the early days of the Latter-day Saint Church or the construction of the first temples will appreciate the historical backdrop, though I was relieved to find it as only a subtle, natural backdrop, and not a preachy or overtly "Mormon" book. I have to say, LDS fiction has come a long way. And I would bet that Annette is leading the way.
Know what you should do?
Buy it. Read it.
Annette, well done. Feel free to write more about Tabitha's story any time you want.
*If you're still not convinced, you can go here to read the Prologue and first two chapters of Tower of Strength. And add Annette's blog to your must-read list too! You can buy the book directly from her website through Deseret Book.