Sunday, April 17, 2016

Book Review: "The Ramblers" by Aidan Donnelley Rowley

Many books depend on dramatic events to advance their plots, as the chaos these incidents wreck can leave indelible marks on a book's characters. However, there is often equal, if not greater, power in those books which focus on the more mundane crises and their effect on people. It doesn't take a catastrophe to cause emotional upheaval and eventual renewal—sometimes these happen in the midst of everyday life.

Aidan Donnelley Rowley's beautiful book, The Ramblers, falls more into the latter category for me, but that doesn't lessen its appeal or its power one iota. The story of three people at emotional crossroads, who need to move on from dwelling on the problems which hold them back, this is a moving examination of finding strength within ourselves, learning to trust when every fiber of our being tells us we shouldn't, and coming to terms with our fears.

Clio Marsh is an ornithologist whose bird-watching walks through Central Park have become noteworthy and have started to earn her a following. The daughter of an emotionally unstable mother, she's always kept most people at arm's length in an attempt to protect herself and the legacy she is so fearful of inheriting. Yet when she meets Henry, an older hotelier who charms her and protects her as no one else ever has, she wants to let herself fall completely but she is worried he may abandon her if he knows the truth about her family.

Clio's best friend, Smith Anderson, is living proof that being raised by one of New York's most prominent and wealthy families doesn't guarantee happiness. While she's happy with her success as a professional organizer (despite the vociferous objections of her father), she's having trouble decluttering her own crisis-laden life, between pining for her ex-fiancée, who ended their engagement abruptly, dreading her younger sister's wedding and the speech she needs to write as maid of honor, and wondering where a recent flirtation might go.

Tate Pennington knew Smith peripherally when she and Clio were fellow students at Yale. He thought he had it all—a successful career and a great marriage, but even as he abandoned life in the financial sector to create a wildly successful startup, he discovered that everything wasn't quite what he expected. Heartbroken and unsure of his next move, he returns to New York and tries to decide whether forging ahead with a new life is right for him, or if there's still a chance to salvage what was lost.

Even thought I couldn't really identify with these characters much, Rowley made them tremendously appealing, even though they were flawed. I found myself fully invested in their stories, emotionally and otherwise, and while there wasn't necessarily anything shocking about the way the plot unfolded, I savored everything about this book. Rowley is a terrific writer with a very engaging style and a strong storytelling ability, and I just enjoyed everything about this book. Emotional without being melodramatic, wry without being quirky, this is a definite winner.

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