Heaven Adjacent (by Catherine Ryan Hyde)

On the whole I have very much liked the novels I have read by Catherine Ryan Hyde. The first one I came across was ‘Love in the Present Tense’, which I read over twelve years ago. But her best-known book is probably ‘Pay it Forward’, which I read nearly a year later, and which was made into a popular film. I have put various books by this author on my wish-list, and was given ‘Heaven Adjacent’ for Christmas last year. I have just finished reading it.

The novel is about a middle-aged woman called Roseanna. We first meet her three months after she has made an unexpected and rather dramatic move from a high-powered job in Manhattan a rambling small shack in the countryside. There are some metal animals, made from junk, which she has made and which attract some local attention. And she meets a young man, a reporter from a newspaper, who wants to interview her.

Roseanna is reluctant to agree, as she doesn’t want her former colleagues - or even her friends - to know where she is. But the reporter is intrigued by her lifestyle - and it’s a clever device, as their conversation left me wondering, too, what had led to the move, and who the various random people are wandering around. Roseanna claims that she wants peace and quiet, but there’s a small girl making a lot of noise, a dog, a young man offering her fresh fish, and an old man chopping wood…

After a couple of chapters, when Roseanna’s son Lance manages to find her, we’re taken back three months to the actual move. We know that she has lost Alice, a close friend and colleague, unexpectedly, although the details don’t become clear until later in the book. But what triggers her sudden decision is a little thing. She is evidently in need of a break of some kind, and decides to drive as far as she can on one tank of fuel, and then see what happens.

The novel is written in chunks of time, before and after the move, gradually filling in the story. Roseanna’s life was full of stress, working harder and harder so that she can buy more and more stuff. She was almost estranged from Lance, but never took the time to think about what really mattered until her friend Alice suddenly died. But what she thinks she really wants is not necessarily what she discovers, eventually, that she really wants.

The location is, as several people say, the next best thing to paradise - hence the title of the book. Yet the life Roseanna chooses to live is devoid of almost every modern comfort. She has electricity and water, but has to climb a nearby hill to get mobile phone reception. There is no heating or cooling in her house, and it’s not in great condition at all. There’s a shack near the back where there are some squatters, and she has the kind of location that attracts casual campers too. There’s also a barn, piled high with old car parts and other rubbish.

The characters are three-dimensional, on the whole. It’s essentially a character-based story, but I could not relate to either section of Roseanna’s life. I would never work in a high-powered stressful job as a lawyer; but neither would I want to throw up everything and start over in somewhat primitive conditions. On the other hand, I could relate to her needing peace and her own space, while also caring very much about individual people.

I don’t know why this book got under my skin quite the way it did. But although it took me a few chapters to get into it, I found myself reading at every odd moment, and then could hardly put it down towards the end. I liked the growing relationship that develops between Roseanna and her son in this unlikely place, and also the friendships that happen despite her wanting to back off. I didn’t entirely understand one of the significant parts of the book - being sued for a huge amount by a former colleague - but then I don’t understand the litigious culture of the United States. I didn’t expect what eventually happened to resolve this, either.

There’s some mild humour, some poignancy, and some quite moving scenes. In places I was reminded quite forcibly of Anne Tyler's style of writing, although it's a while since I've read any of her books. Even though Roseanna’s choices and options are not mine, the book is quite thought-provoking in places. Overall I thought this an uplifting and encouraging book. The ending is positive, tying up several loose ends as Rosanna has worked out what is really important to her. The novel comes full circle in a sense, as the reporter re-appears to find out how she is doing.


Review copyright 2019 Sue's Book Reviews

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