Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf: Featuring Alice Hoffman and Allen Eskers

By Lynn Willoughby

The Marriage of Opposites ~ Alice Hoffman
This novel had some interesting history, especially in regards to the setting.  It is the early 1800s on the island of St Thomas which is governed by Denmark. The small Jewish community here has been allowed to run their businesses and live their lives in peace.
However, Rachel’s father’s business is failing, due to shipping losses on stormy seas, so she is married off to a widower more than twice her age, who also has three children. Her father dies, and her life is not easy.  She is more interested in the business than being a wife or mother. When her husband also dies Rachel feels she can begin her own life. However, women cannot own property, so her husband’s nephew is summoned from France. He is the heir of the estate, and although he is off the charts handsome and charming, worldly from his life in Paris, he knows nothing of the business. He is much younger than Rachel, but she falls madly in love and a passionate love affair follows, much to the dismay and fury of the community. Her family and the members of the synagogue view the relationship as incestuous.
Things get even bleaker when Rachel becomes pregnant. The Rabbi will not even see them, let alone consider a marriage. Rachel has a large family, the business is affected, things are getting worse.
This is a complex story involving race, culture, class and religion. It was slow to start, but worthwhile reading once you get past the first 60 pages or so. Like Hoffman’s other books, I enjoyed it.
  • The Dovekeepers
  • Here on Earth
…………..and several others
The Life We Bury ~ Allen Eskers
This is a great little mystery. Well written, clever, tension that builds and builds, and lots of angst. There are twists, there is the brother with autism, there is the alcoholic mother.
The protagonist, Joe, is a college student.  He juggles classes, work and time with his brother, but a deadline is looming for an English assignment. His task is to interview a stranger. Because he is running out of time, Joe stops at a nursing home, meets Carl Iverson and Joe’s life is changed forever.
Carl is dying of cancer. He has been medically paroled to a nursing home after spending thirty years in prison for raping and murdering the girl next door. His story comes out slowly as he is heavily medicated, he tires easily and he finds it very difficult to talk about himself.
One day Joe meets Carl’s friend who is visiting. They served in Vietnam together and he is much more forthcoming about Joe. His heroism during war resulted in being awarded several medals, but his beliefs in what is right or wrong made him disobey a direct order. How can this same man commit the crimes that sent him to prison? Was the justice system wrong? Are the nursing home staff judging and careless in their attention?
The author is a criminal defense attorney, so while Joe and Lila and Detective Rupert dig through old records of a very cold case, it all felt very real. Joe’s wish is to see Carl’s criminal conviction expunged before his death. Will time work for or against Joe, what is uncovered and Carl’s imminent death?
Surprisingly, I liked Carl, as did Joe and Lila. What I especially liked was the never ending optimism – in prison and on his death bed. “I decide that day I would live my life, not simply exist.” – Carl Iverson.
This is a debut novel.
Who Knew?
Medical parole or compassionate release on grounds of terminal illness is subject to a narrow interpretation of the law in the USA. End of life care is compounded by the sheer numbers now incarcerated.

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