Review: The Qualities of Wood by Mary Vensel White

When Vivian Gardiner left her job to join her mystery writer husband Nowell in a sleepy Midwestern town she expected a challenge in the prospect of preparing his late grandmother’s house for sale. She did not expect a mystery of her own. But when a young girl is found dead in the wooded expanse beyond the house and the town’s longstanding inhabitants – some friendly, others elusively sinister – become drawn into her life, a mystery is just what Vivian gets. The house left behind by Betty Gardiner holds secrets her grandson and his young wife would never have anticipated; secrets that could lead them to discover another side of close members from their family tree. Strong, intelligent, determined Vivian is struggling with the void in her marriage brought on by four years and an artistic spouse’s tendency toward reclusion, but when the town’s biggest tragedy settles itself on her doorstep she realizes she must work harder to pay attention and uncover the truth she believes has been hidden, even if that means unraveling the threads of Nowell’s family.

In her plight Vivian must also open the house to visitors in the form of Nowell’s brother Lonnie and his new wife Dorothy. Hotheaded, unchecked and prone to drunken tempers, Lonnie is a strong contrast to Dorothy, a plucky, optimistic girl in whom Vivian finds a friend and ally. With the aid of Dorothy and Katharine, a local woman with a penchant for heavy make-up and flashy jewelry, Vivian stands her ground against the uncharted woods, the town’s mysterious history and the shadows that cross her path, such as her quiet, private neighbor, Mr. Stokes.

The Qualities of Wood is a striking novel that moves leisurely through its story. Mary Vensel White cultivates a unique impression through beautiful prose, matching the expansive and unmarred countryside setting with her tranquil storytelling and thoughtful, intriguing characters. There’s an element to the book that separates it from anything else the reader has ever known, offering an exciting reading experience that touches the heart and engages the spirit as it stimulates the mind. There were times when I would be moved to call The Qualities of Wood a slow novel – which is something I tend to like – but there’s something in it, a reflection of the book’s setting and the hazy summer season it takes place during that draws the reader to embrace its unhurried pace.

Additionally, the characters presented are each a unique portrait of the human condition, each impossible to know thoroughly at the early stages of the book with the exception of Vivian, whose clear determination brings her forward from the other characters, representing herself in a way that strikes to the heart of the reader and leaves us guessing – as Vivian does – what the true motives of those around her really are. With its strong focus on a potentially grizzly mystery and a backdrop of other mysteries to be explained, The Qualities of Wood kept me on my feet and had me in curious anticipation until its final pages, never giving me a moment to predict its true circumstances. I felt thoroughly engaged with the experience, and enriched by a story that holds a standard all its own.

Title: The Qualities of Wood Author: Mary Vensel White Genre: Mystery, Literary Fiction Publisher: Authonomy by Harper Collins Format: E-Book Release date: January 31, 2012 Source: Mary Vensel White (C/O) Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Amazon UK Connect with the author: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter

Q&A with author Mary Vensel White