Review: A Long Thaw by Katie O'Rourke

In her second novel following 2012's Monsoon Season, Katie O'Rourke returns with a story of the heartbreaks and joys of family. As children cousins Abby and Juliet were inseparable, spending their summers creating a lifetime of memories together. Everything changed when Juliet’s parents divorced and her mother moved her to the opposite coast: while Juliet lived a struggle-filled life in California, all but raising her two younger sisters in the shadow of their mother’s neglect, Abby was left to grow up as the privileged only child of a loving, sustained family. Years later, Abby and Juliet come back into each other’s lives and realize that the two close-knit little girls have grown into two very different young women; but with faith in the power of family and friendship they’ll find that the girls they once were are still close at heart. Through familial struggles, boyfriend woes, and all the trials and triumphs of life, Abby and Juliet will be reminded of how they’ve each been the one person the other could always depend on.

A Long Thaw carries many of the same wonderful qualities that made Monsoon Season such an impressive debut and extends them into a somewhat more expansive sophomore novel. O’Rourke’s prose has a definite talent for drawing me into the story from the first page; the world of her fiction comes to life with impressive clarity and her characters are immediately interesting. I felt deeply connected to Abby and Juliet; their closeness was almost sisterly in the way that they didn’t really skip a beat reuniting, despite whatever years and secrets were there between them. As characters their differences balance each other out in a terrific paradox: sheltered, fortunate Abby is the protective one while Juliet, for all of the hardships in her life, is the more vulnerable of the two. They were, by effect, like puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly, in many ways two halves of one whole. In the same vein, their differences give way to plenty of misunderstandings – such as Juliet’s ability to always pick the wrong man and Abby’s perpetually high expectations of others – but as the story progresses it’s particularly interesting to see their vices switch. The novel became, for me, an engrossing look at two vastly different yet perfectly attuned characters, and how they bring each other closer and further away from their best selves.

Beyond their relationship as cousins, family dynamics play an even broader role in A Long Thaw, particularly between Juliet’s father Allen, Abby’s mother Rachel, and the cousins’ grandmother Mary. O’Rourke rotates her narrative focus to encompass all of these characters, a unique strategy that allows her to take the reader momentarily away from the current happenings of the story and back into the history of each person, revealing a depth of insight into all of the different personalities that come together in the novel. It would be easy for these asides to distract the reader, to cause us to lose interest when we’re taken away from the action, but it’s a testament to O’Rourke’s talent with building intriguing characters that we are willing to venture back into the past with them, ever curious to learn more. The pacing of O’Rourke’s prose is beautiful in itself, her narrative handled with serene straightforwardness; the recollections of Abby and Juliet’s New England summers as children captured, at least for me, the truest and most personal essence of familial memories. The novel’s atmosphere had a way of feeling instantly familiar while the story and structure were a constant reminder of its singular uniqueness. That alone makes A Long Thaw a worthwhile read, but perhaps its greatest charm lies in the full-heartedness of its two heroines and the contagious feeling of connectivity we get from them. With its deeply thoughtful prose and warm, honest storytelling, A Long Thaw proves again O’Rourke’s talent for taking us out of our own world and into the realm of truly engaging literature.

Title: A Long Thaw Author: Katie O'Rourke Genre: literary fiction Publisher: Canvas Available Formats: ebook Release date: January 16, 2014 Source: Katie O'Rourke (c/o) Buy the book: Kindle | Nook Connect with the author: Website/Blog | Twitter | Goodreads

A Long Thaw