Here is one of my most recent book reviews for Pacific Book Review. For more reviews, visit www.pacificbookreview.com. More to come!
Title: Grave Markers, Bird Feathers, and the Aegean Sea
Author: Kathryn Heuston Clark
Reviewed by Tamar Mekredijian for Pacific Book Review
Grave Markers, Bird Feathers, and the Aegean Sea by Kathryn Heuston Clark highlights a woman’s spiritual journey of reevaluating her life during and after her father’s and husband’s deaths caused by cancer. The progression of the story leans on the looming illness and death that cancer brings upon her family.
Written in first person, the novel unfolds as the narrator describes her experiences. The story is interwoven with the affects of cancer and death on the narrator, and trips to Greece, which hold a significant place in the narrator’s heart. She feels the most spiritual peace in Greece, and believes that her healing comes from true understanding of herself in the world, and of her life after the death of both her father and her husband due to cancer. She often refers to Greek mythology to try to gain a better understanding of life and death.
The novel has potential to be a great story, however, poor characterization makes it difficult to sympathize with the situations that the characters claim to be dire and sad. Left nameless, the characters of the story are not shown to the reader; they are merely told. The narrator tells the reader about what she’s experiencing, and how those experiences make her feel, however, we know nothing about her, or her family. The lack of background information deprive the reader of one of the most important parts of a story: where the characters have come from, in turn, making it hard for the reader to understand where they want to go. Unfortunately, not only were the family members flat characters, but the main character, the narrator, was as well. Throughout the story, the narrator tries to come out of the depression that sets in after her father and husband die. At the end of the novel, she tells her children that she has changed. However, as a reader, I did not see a change.
There were so many instances in which I hoped for a scene rather than just the narrator’s internal thoughts about the situations that her and her family were in. Instead of her telling the reader how the death of her husband made her feel, I wanted to see what that emotion drove her to do. There were a few moments in the story where I slowed down my reading and savored the scene. For example, on one of her trips to Greece, the narrator remembers that her husband bought her a necklace when they were in Greece together, and she misses that moment, trying to see the reflection of the necklace in a window. It was a wonderful image, but one of the very few we are given. The author does portray the typical coping-with-loss methods, like the narrator remodeling her house and traveling to break through the sadness. However, most of the situations have been done over and over in literature. I was hoping for something unique or interesting, and was disappointed. Most scenes are made up of the narrator’s thoughts about her trips to Greece, which felt more like a history lesson rather than an attempt to put the narrator in a situation in which she would react and the reader would see the characters true nature and desires. Seeing the characters act out their emotions would have better depicted their personalities and given the reader a chance to connect with them.
Overall, the lack of characterization and language issues distracted me from being concerned about the cancer and other illnesses that spread through the family. The fact that none of the characters had no names made it hard to keep track of which of her children she was talking about, created a disconnect between the characters, and made the language feel choppy. Perhaps the cancer was a character, and the only one that was given a name, to capture the reader’s sole focus. With more attention to character development and the refining of diction, this could be a story about a woman who wanted to find the real meaning of life, and to find a way to cope with the “anguish” that these deaths bring into her life. For readers looking for more of a memoir about a woman’s internal thoughts while coping with loved one’s deaths, this could very well be the right book for them.