I have to confess, I often judge a book by its cover. And from the moment I opened the mailer with my most recent book to review for Bethany House, it called to me, and I couldn’t put it down for the next few days. The sepia photo on the cover of Traveler’s Rest by Ann Tatlock bespeaks nostalgia, deep contemplation, and a hint of sorrow, tinged with bittersweet happiness. And so the book itself went.
The novel follows Jane Morrow, a young woman engaged to a National Guardsman who comes back from Iraq a quadriplegic, as she navigates the waters of life post-injury. The soldier, Seth, is predictably angry and can’t see the point of living anymore. His family is stoic and prepared to do all that needs to be done to take care of him. Jane is loyal and ready to face the road of marriage she sees ahead of her. But of course everything changes, or there would be no novel!
I was driven to choose this book for review because not many books have been written yet about this war, and I was intrigued to see how Tatlock would handle it. Honestly, the war is only a bit player in the book at most–a foregone conclusion that’s just part of life as we know it–which I guess is pretty true to how it is in real life for many of us. There were a few mentions of some of the animosity toward the soldiers, but Jane of course is supportive of the troops. That was about the extent of the discussion of the war, which might have disappointed me had other elements not grabbed me.
The characters were what really sucked me in. As she spent time at the hospital with Seth, Jane met some wonderful people, and her burgeoning relationships with them kept bringing me back. The kind-hearted retired doctor, the intelligent young blind man, the scientist friend who we keep up with through emails, all of them brought out bits and pieces of the story in different ways. However, I was disappointed that a few of these characters seemed to disappear by the time we got to the all together pat epilogue.
As with any major life episode, faith came to bear in Jane’s decision. Tatlock never really explained why Jane was not a believer, though she clearly states that Seth was. And through a somewhat unbelievable dream-vision, all of Jane’s uncertainty melted away and brought her into the ranks of the faithful. I was surprised that the faith element was not talked about in more detail, though maybe that is a good move for Christian that will help move it off its niche bookshelf and more into the realm of mainstream fiction. Instead, the focus was on Jane’s decision of whether or not to go ahead with her marriage to Seth. And I think that’s the crux of what fascinated me about Traveler’s Rest: I have NO idea what decision I might make were I in Jane’s shoes, nor did I necessarily have an opinion of what the “right” decision would be, so I was fascinated to see what she would choose. Unfortunately, I found the denouement to be a bit of a cop-out. I would have liked it to be a bit more raw, as it would be in real life. (Though, I must admit, the ending was what I had secretly hoped for from the moment I met the character named John Paul.)
I was surprised at points by the poeticism of Tatlock’s writing. Sentences like, “No one seemed aware at all of the song rolling out of the belfry, though the bells went on stubbornly ringing, their notes drifting down like absolution over the dusk-shrouded city” seemed almost out of place among the rest of the more pedestrian plot-driven pages, but they were a nice addition that would lead me to give others of Tatlock’s books a whirl. Despite a few somewhat unbelievable stretches that were necessary to moving the plot forward, the book flowed nicely from start to finish and left me feeling pretty content.
I like reading books that make me think about how I would handle certain situations, and this was definitely one. Have you read any books lately that made you think?