So, a while ago I had a ton of Karen White books on my to-read list. A ton of them. There's just something about her covers that appeals to me. They're so beachy and summery and they just look inviting. But then, I went through and cleared them all out after I read a non-Karen-White book, The Last Original Wife. The cover had some of the same feel as the Karen White books, and I hated the book. It made me feel like the Karen White books were going to be the same. And then, just within the past week or so, the Bookalicious Babe blog had a review of Karen White's Flight Patterns up. It was a really good review, starting off by stating that "Karen White is one of my go to Southern writers." Well, that's pretty high praise. So when I wandered into the library and saw The Sound of Glass on the Popular Reads shelf, I decided to give it a go.
I like the writing style here, I really do. The plot follows Merritt moving to a South Carolina town after she inherits a house from her deceased husband's family, and finds herself entangled with her stepmother and ten-year-old half-brother who show up unexpectedly on her porch, and with her brother-in-law who's trying to figure out what drew his brother to Merritt. Meanwhile, there are chapters that go back in time to Merritt's great-grandmother-in-law, who knows something about an airplane crash that happened in the 1950s and who has left a rather creepy mark on Merritt's inherited house. All of this takes place along the South Carolina coast, with some boat trips along rivers and marshes, talk of crocodiles, plenty of sweet tea, and a kitchen that comes straight out of the mid-1900s. All of this lent such a sense of atmosphere to this story that I couldn't get enough of it.
What I could get enough of was the mystery in the background here, and the spousal and child abuse that was rampant throughout this book. None of the main characters are abusers--but the number of people who are, floating about in the backstory, is truly astounding. It's mainly the members of Merritt's husband's family, with the exception of her brother-in-law. And the whole plot about the airplane crash and what actually caused it, and how Merritt ended up tied into the very family that holds the secret to the cause, even if they don't know it... It really did stretch my incredulity. I like when things are tightly knit, with all the ends tied together, but in this case the whole situation just seemed a little more far-fetched than my suspension of disbelief was willing to allow. The idea that someone would track down Merritt and get involved with her because her grandmother, who was already dead, Knew Something that Merritt clearly didn't know was just...crazy.
The building of relationships, though, is the true driving point of this novel, and I thought that was well-done. Merritt has problems connecting with people and a lingering resentment of her father and stepmother, so when her stepmother and half-brother show up it's a struggle for her to let them in--an ditto for her brother-in-law who seems to both dislike her, and who reminds her so much of her husband even though she quickly finds they're really not that alike. Merritt moving on from her past, in multiple ways, and learning to reconnect with people is the core of this, and I thought it was well done. Loralee, the stepmother, seemed like a character who would drive me crazy at first, but she really did grow on me, coming across with a hefty dose of Southern charm and some good--though often trite--advice. Owen was that rare creature in novels: a kid who isn't annoying beyond all belief. And Gibbes, the brother-in-law... Mmmm. What a nice addition.
So, despite the overly-contrived mystery here, I did really like this book as a whole, and I can definitely see myself reading more Karen White novels, especially in this summer season!
4 stars out of 5.
This book also (inadvertently) ended up fulfilling my reading challenge category of "A book that takes place during summer."