Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Caretakers, by Tabitha King

(hb; 1983)

From the inside flap:

"Caretakers is the story of Torie Christopher, a member of the Maine aristocracy, and Joe Nevers, the working-class man who has always loved her.

"...we see how... these seemingly-disparate lives have been inexorably joined. While a fierce Maine blizzard rages, Torie and Joe travel through their past in a series of revealing flashbacks. As they relive the tragedies and triumphs of the past thirty years, their relationship -- by turns subtle and profound -- slowly emerges.

"While the storm worsens, threatening their survival, we learn of startling, long-buried truths. We encounter spouses saintly and hellish, marriages enduring and licentious, and witness the coming of age of some children and tragic deaths of others. This is a novel where intimate secrets and tragic passions are laid bare."

Review:

The first of King's Nodd's Ridge novels reads sparse and less character-rich, as characters go: only Joe Nevers, Victoria "Torie" Chrisopher, Reuben Styles (whose seduction by Torie gets revisited, with more detailed passages, in The Book of Reuben) and a few other characters are shown this time out.

Bouncing between various flashbacks and the novel's present (1982), King's gift for prose-poetic imagery is restrained, but notable -- it's not until later novels that one sees it fully bloom. (I mention this because readers who may've read her later novels may find it disconcerting to encounter the aforementioned restraint.)

For the most part, this is a solid read, with characters who are entirely relatable, flawed and beautifully humane. The middle section, particularly the dialogue exchanges between Torie and Joe in 1982, lags a bit, but otherwise the story flows well. Also, revelations regarding events revisited in later Nodd's Ridge stories are not entirely unexpected, but still somewhat jarring.

This is not King's best book, but it's worth reading, especially if you're curious to read her later Nodd's Ridge novels (which, loosely connected, have overlapping storylines/timelines, often from different character perspectives).

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