TURTLE VALLEY by Gail Anderson-Dargatz (Knopf), 292 pages, $32 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Gail Anderson-Dargatz's latest is part mystery, part memory story, part eco-conscious tale, but a rare take on illness in the context of a marriage is what makes Turtle Valley a winner.
Forest fires are swiftly moving toward Kat's parents' town, and she's come with her husband and son to help them evacuate. There she discovers what might be a ghost hanging out at a cabin nearby, and she takes what turns out to be a related interest (that's not a spoiler) in the fact that her grandfather was lost in the woods 60 years ago.
Kat's there to sort out her parents' stuff, but she's got a ton of her own to deal with, too. High on the list is hunky ex-boyfriend Jude, a potter (and how hot is that?), whose interest in her hasn't waned one bit.
But the key relationship is Kat's connection to her husband, Ezra, who's suffered a debilitating stroke. Anderson-Dargatz handles this aspect of the book with stunning sensitivity, and not just because she conveys with so much skill Kat's guilt at being drawn to Jude. That's almost the easy part.
But when Ezra's occasional fits of temper, a byproduct of his stroke, get directed at his young son Jeremy, we're both appalled by and profoundly sympathetic to Ezra's disability and its impact - a layering of reactions that reflects Kat's hopelessly conflicted state.
Along with the passion, there's suspense, too. The raging fires just keep getting closer. This is a haunting novel with emotionally haunted characters. Gripping.