Quill and Quire

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Absent

by Sherri Vanderveen

Otto Sinclair has tried to do the right thing all his life. But under the weight of his mother’s strict rules and, later, his stultifying marriage, he can’t figure out how to lead a “normal” life.  So he sets fire to his house and flees. Twenty-eight years later, he returns. In the interim, we get to know the people around him – his mother, Elsa, his wife, Lenore, and their two kids, Ruby and Gavin.

Author Sherri Vanderveen’s talent lies not only in interweaving the characters’ complex storylines, but in the precise details she includes: “The children were usually awake when she left to catch the bus, looking forlorn and tousled, the smell of sleep still clinging to their skin and pillow lines traced on their cheeks.” The fragility of these characters’ lives and the mistakes they make are easily recognizable, and the details the author has chosen are authentic and correct.

Vanderveen has the ability to take broken characters and imbue them with hope. She does this without coaxing or exposition, using straight-ahead dialogue and allowing the reader to delve into their thoughts. This is particularly evident in Lenore’s ability to draw people out with just a few words, and without even meeting their gaze.

Despite their potentially negative first impressions, readers develop sympathy for these characters. Vanderveen’s fractured family is liable to remind readers of their own families. That is the mark of an strong writer and a memorable story.