Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Book Review: Belong To Me

I have a friend I like to call my book soulmate. She is more than that of course: She is one of those once in a lifetime friends who, no matter time and distance, will always be the one I can talk to about anything.

But she is also the one who reads more than anyone I know, and who gives me books that fit my soul like a sigh. Books that, when I open them and start to read, bathe me in words and stories that make me lose all sense of time and space.

It's a bonus that my birthday is in the summer, and that she always sends the best books as gifts, which I hold on to until I am somewhere warm, toes in the sand, waves lapping at my feet, the sound of gulls swooping down and a husband who has taken kid duty - at least for a little while.

Belong To Me was one of the gifts she sent this year, and it didn't disappoint.

In short, the story is about several women in a small town, all living in their own world of hurts and secrets and hopes, whose worlds collide in the most unexpected of ways.

The author, Marisa de los Santos, is also an award-winning poet, which is evident in the best of ways in the prose. Every sentence is like a poem of it's own; beautifully intricate and evocative. Do you remember that meme that was going around some time ago? The one where you had to grab the nearest book and turn to page 73 and find the third sentence? And you held your breath hoping it would be a good one, but it never was. Not once. Every sentence, taken out of context, bare and stripped on the page alone, was nearly ugly or convoluted or awkward by itself. This book is the opposite.

For example: pg 73 third sentence: He imagined he could hear himself snapping into place.

Any paragraph, any page. Beauty.

Many times he'd stood on a sidewalk or a patch of grass and felt his place in the universe: third planet from the sun, on the Orion arm of the milky Way galaxy, two-thirds of the way out from its center, in the Virgo super-cluster, in the continuum of time and space. He'd planted his feet and closed his eyes and tried to feel the motion of the earth.

and this:

It seemed impossible that you could stand in a kitchen making hot chocolate and grilled-cheese sandwiches with your best friend dying in the next room, the voices of her children tanged up with the voices of your own, that you could butter bread and watch, through the window, the trees relinquishing their leaves and hear the silvery tumble of water into a kettle, and be suddenly aware that what resided at the heart of every shape and sound was peace. A rightness hovering above all that was wrong, shimmering, like heat, rising from a street in summer.

and this one. Seriously, I just randomly opened the book and pointed:

Piper knew they were, as she watched them together, all four on the giant armchair listening to Danny Kaye tell the story of Tubby the Tuba, an album Elizabeth had loved as a kid, draped over each other with the gorgeous indifference of children who haven't yet learned that it matters where one body ends and the next begins.

There aren't a lot of books I read where I just want to stop at each sentence and marvel at the loveliness of it, but can't because I want to keep reading to find out what is coming next, because not just is the narrative expertly done, the plot is twisty and the relationships complex and the characters simply delicious.

It's not a perfect book, which is the case I think with many exquisite writings. Several similes or adjectives were so unique and captivating and breath-taking that I stopped to ponder them, to wonder why I don't even think in such a way to write like this. Only to have it repeated a hundred pages later. And then fifty pages after that.

And the point of belonging was a bit belabored. It repeated over and over, sometimes in ways that seemed almost contrived, like the title was created first and the author was trying to justify it a little too much.

But those tiny flaws did nothing to knock this book off it's perch as one of my new favorite books. It's one of those books I'll carry with me in my mind for a long time, and one to whom I'll return on those bad days, when I need to lose myself a bit in words that soothe the soul.


  1. That's the real trick isn't it. Make your prose strikingly beautiful, but still have a great plot and compelling characters.

    There's been too many times where I've read a wonderfully written book but it hasn't grabbed my attention.

    I'll have to look this book up.

  2. Patti - Well, it's isn't a Da Vinci Code kind of pace, but I didn't want to put it down.

    The plot itself is definitely along the women's fiction line... more character driven and less action, but the characters are so well drawn, you want to find out why they are like they are, or why they are where they are, or what it is they're hiding.

    I've read well-written prose that falls flat as a story, but this is not one of them for me. I hope you like it!

  3. Oh my gosh, it's a dream of mine that some day, somebody will feel this way about my book.

    Great review!