Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review: Ghellow Road by T.H. Waters

Ghellow RoadGhellow Road is the story of a young girl's journey from happiness to misery and back, the story of her creating a life for herself in the middle of her family's troubles and finding a place she can really call home.

Several weeks ago T.H. Waters contacted me with a request to read and review her book, Ghellow Road, and in short order I had the volume in my hands. I only got to it now because of my crazy self-inflicted schedule (which is now, thankfully, over) and am glad to say that I liked it. The beginning was a bit rough, so much so that a couple of pages in I caught myself hoping that it would get better and fast. As the saying goes "ask and you shall receive" and in no time the author hit her stride and I was caught up in the disfunction of the Waters family.
The book follows Theresa for about 10 years from her childhood in the 1960s into adolescence in the 1970s, and the story and the way it was told struck a chord with me. It was horrifying to see that Theresa's mother was allowed to keep the children despite her terrible illness and inability to adequately care and provide for them and that apparently nobody thought there was anything wrong with children not having a permanent home. Was it just the way things were or were the Waters kids particularly unlucky?
Throughout the book Theresa longs for someone to embrace her and take care of her, wants someone to pay attention to her. She doesn't get that from her mother, Rainy, so she invests her time and energy outside the house to get the recognition and love she needs. Rainy is generally portrayed as someone unreachable, who smiles upon her children one day and disregards them the next, so it was interesting to see that she herself was locked in the same cycle with someone whose love and acceptance she was desperate to have. When I read that scene I felt that a whole new dimension was added to the story and wondered whether Theresa ever saw it.
I've always been a daddy's girl and seeing a similar dynamic here made me feel more in touch with the story. It was interesting to see Theresa's father go out of his way to spend time with his daughter despite his own troubles, show and teach her things and support her however he could and then turn around and reveal unexpected sides of his character, although I kind of saw what was coming way before Theresa ever figured it out.
Although I generally enjoyed the book the unevenness in writing and character development soured the experience for me. Some chapters just flowed and were a pleasure to read, with the atmosphere of time and place being revealed perfectly. Some felt forced, with writing becoming too "writerly" with unnecessary flourishes and the same type of sentence structure repeating over and over to the point where after a while it would jump out at me and not in a good way. The same thing happened with the characters: some of Theresa's friends were easy to imagine and with others I just didn't feel the connection that made the girls "best friends forever" and can't say that I ever really knew what made them so different from each other despite physical descriptions and page time dedicated to them. Looking back I think that Teresa's parents were the only characters besides Theresa whose development didn't have gaps and who actually made a difference in the story every time they appeared, the rest just kind of blended together for the most part.
There was one thing that confused me, and continues to do so - this book's genre. The front cover of the book says that it's a novel, which is by definition fiction, but then on the back cover at the end the author says "This is the story of my life". The About the Author section reveals that the book is based upon the unique experiences of her life, the acknowledgements confirm that, the story is set in the same town where the author grew up and even the names in the book are the same as the real names of the author's family: Theresa's father is Rick V. Waters and the author's father is Richard Valentine and both the author and the characters have the last name of Waters. This makes me wonder, how much of this book is really fiction? I'm not sure that changing the names of the extended family turns a memoir into a novel, then again, I don't think that this confusion about the genre made the story any less poignant.
All in all this was an enjoyable book and I'm glad that I agreed to read it. Best of luck to Ms. Waters in her future writing endeavors!

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