The Embers by Hyatt Bass
The Aschers are a family that has fallen apart. Emily Ascher is recently engaged and determined to hold her wedding on her family’s property, which includes the remains of their old summer home. Her mother, Laura, doesn’t really understand this desire, after the tragedy that unfolded there, thus creating conflict between the two women who have never really needed a reason for conflict. Adding to Emily’s burdens surrounding her marriage is her father: long divorced from Laura and distanced from Emily, Joe is unsure how to relate to his daughter and isn’t particularly good at keeping in contact – to the point where Laura warns Emily that she may need a backup plan for someone to walk her down the aisle.
“The Embers” is not a static book. Not only does the narration switch frequently from Emily, to Laura, to Joe, then back again, but the time period switches from the present (2007/2008), to the time when a tension-filled family finally dissolved (1992/1993). I know that this bothers some people, so be warned if you are one of them, but I thought that Bass did it well. The time period of any given chapter is listed at the top of that chapter, and the book is even broken into three sections of seasons to give the reader a sense of exactly how time is moving. The narration changes are not explicitly indicated, but I never had a problem figuring out whose point of view I was experiencing.
My favorite part of this book was the way that Bass created her characters. Emily, Laura, and Joe are all deeply flawed human beings. In some ways they reminded me of the characters in Zoe Heller’s “The Believers,” except they didn’t make me want to rip the pages out of the book so I would never again be subjected to their horribleness. Joe and Laura already had problems, but the tragedy that struck their family left all of them emotionally scarred. They weren’t particularly likeable characters, per se, but they were real and sympathetic, and I didn’t find them DISlikeable. This seemed like almost a psychological look at the events of their lives and how they caused them to relate to one another. You could get a particularly good view of this because of the narration changes, and it was occasionally heartbreaking to see how past hurts caused them to misinterprete each other’s actions. I thought the ending of “The Embers” was perfect, particularly Joe’s ending.
Whether or not you’ll like this book seems to depend (based on others’ reviews) on how you feel about the characters. A few people have really hated them, and I can understand how that hampers enjoyment of a book (see my review of “The Believers”). However, I found them to simply be real, if somewhat dysfunctional, and I thoroughly enjoyed “The Embers.”
Thank you to Hyatt Bass and Henry Holt Publishing for sending me this book to review.