Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review: Guest House by Barbara K. Richardson

Guest House: A Novel  
by Barbara K. Richardson (website)

Genre: Women's Fiction
Released: March 16, 2010

What you liked:
Guest House is Barbara K. Richardson's debut novel. An MFA graduate from a program I know and love (at Eastern Washington University), Richardson sets her novel in the places I know and love with characters that I could have met on the streets of Portland (or, as it would seem, the transit). She has a very unique voice, which I thoroughly appreciated through the whole book. The storyline is one I did not expect, and the whole experience of reading the book was refreshing. It's the first true women's fiction (that wasn't sort of a disguised category romance) that I've read in quite awhile, and it was an enjoyable read. The book is worth picking up just to get a chance to experience the unique narrative that Richardson creates. Her writing reminds me of my own days in the classrooms of my MFA program, and there's just enough cryptic beauty to keep you turning the pages based on the strength and interest of her prose alone. Apart from the writing style, she creates a highly engaging character in Melba (and in JoLee, the other main character), whom I found myself becoming closer and closer to throughout the novel. 

I also highly appreciated the message of the book, which is one of the things I always expect from literary fiction. When I finish reading the book, I want to feel like there was a reason for telling the story, and I felt like Guest House had a message. Apart from the fact that life is difficult, but ultimately redemptive, Richardson's obvious love for all things that live comes across in the dedication of her characters to the preservation of their natural environment. People call it gardening, or landscaping, but it's really all about preservation. Making things grow, cultivating living plants... it keeps us all alive. And the theme of life in all its faces was a major part of the flow of this narrative.

This is not one of those books you pick up and thumb through. It's a book you take your time with. This is a book written for cups of tea on front porches in the cool spring morning air, or snuggling up in front of a fireplace, savoring every literary mouthful. If you liked Elin Hildebrand, Gail Godwin, and Elizabeth Gilbert, you should definitely pick up Barbara K. Richardson's debut novel. I have a feeling she's going to be part of our literary landscape for quite awhile.

Book Blurb:
One summer afternoon, Melba Burns witnesses a nightmare collision. The unknown bicyclist dies in her arms, ending Melba's desire for success at any cost. She settles into her boxy old farmhouse trying to find a simpler peace. But Melba's stunning new roommate JoLee Garry only magnetizes messes and trouble-she brings a series of unexpected guests who transform Melba's fruitful solo life into something different, darker, and better.

Reviewed by Rebecca Lynn

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