Review: THE STORIES WE TELL by Patti Callahan Henry

The stories we tell by patti callahan henryWishing Patti Callahan Henry a very Happy Pub Day!

The Book:

Eve and Cooper Morrison are Savannah’s power couple. They’re on every artistic board and deeply involved in the community. She owns and operates a letterpress studio specializing in the handmade; he runs a digital magazine featuring all things southern gentlemen. The perfect juxtaposition of the old and the new, Eve and Cooper are the beautiful people. The lucky ones. And they have the wealth and name that comes from being part of an old Georgia family.

But things may not be as good as they seem.

Eve’s sister, Willa, is staying with the family until she gets “back on her feet.” Their daughter, Gwen, is all adolescent rebellion. And Cooper thinks Eve works too much. Still, the Morrison marriage is strong. After twenty-one years together, Eve and Cooper know each other. They count on each other. They know what to expect. But when Cooper and Willa are involved in a car accident, the questions surrounding the event bring the family close to breaking point. Sifting between the stories—what Cooper says, what Willa remembers, what the evidence indicates—Eve has to find out what really happened. And what she’s going to do about it.

The Author:

patti callahan henry authorNew York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan Henry has published ten novels–including one of my favorite reads of last year, AND THEN I FOUND YOU. Hailed as a fresh new voice in Southern fiction, Henry has been shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, and nominated four different times for the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Novel of the Year.

She grew up in Philadelphia, the daughter of an Irish minister, and moved south with her family when she was 12 years old. With the idea that being a novelist was “unrealistic,” she became a pediatric nurse. Not long after having her third child, she began writing down the stories that had always been in her head. Patti wrote early in the mornings, before her children woke for the day, but it wasn’t until her daughter mentioned  that she wanted “to be a writer of books” when she grew up that Patti realized that writing was her own dream as well. She began taking writing classes at Emory University, attending weekend writers’ conferences, and educating herself about the publishing industry, rising at 4:30 AM to write. Her first book, Losing the Moon, was published in 2004.

A full-time writer, wife, and mother of three—Patti Callahan Henry lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama.

Find Patti at:  Her Website  *  Twitter  *  Facebook  * Goodreads

 

The First Line:

My eyes changed color and I didn’t even notice.

The Good Stuff:

By now we’ve all realized that in real life, there is no such thing as the “perfect” family. Chances are, even the most glamorous and stable of folks have something going on behind the facade. In THE STORIES WE TELL, Eve and Cooper live with this disparity: on the surface, everything looks fabulous. In reality, his online magazine is struggling, he’s jealous of the time Eve spends on her successful letterpress business, Fine Line, Ink., their teenage daughter teeters on the brink of full-fledged rebellion, and Eve’s free-spirited sister, Willa, is really a recovering alcoholic living in the guest house until she can piece her life back together.

The story starts strong: on a dark and stormy night, Eve is summoned to the hospital after her husband and sister are injured a car accident. Cooper escapes with only a glaring gash across his face, but Willa has suffered a traumatic brain injury. She can’t remember what happened that night, and Cooper is blaming her and her drunken antics—a story that doesn’t mesh with what either sisters believes.

But why wouldn’t Cooper be telling the truth?

The story also dips into the sketchy subject of financial infidelity. It’s a topic friends and spouses just don’t discuss, yet in these unstable times, it’s something that occurs more than we’d care to imagine. Does sneaking around the bank account destroy trust as wholly as cheating in the bedroom?

Eve and Cooper’s teenage daughter, Gwen, tugged at my gut. Each episode of acting out left me wondering how I’d handle a similar situation—and nervous considering I’ll be parenting a teen in just a few short years. I wanted to yell at Gwen and hug her all at the same time.

The details about Eve’s passion for printing and need to create added a colorful layer to the story. Though the ease of computers, many of us may dabble in graphics and design, but few of us have worked with a finicky old letterpress, hunted through junk shops for antique font sets, or spend hours pondering the differences in the feel of fine papers. I love the premise of the Ten Good Ideas card line—ten commandments for really living, like “be kind” and “search for the true” instead of ten rules threatening you should not do. These rules for living not only exemplified Eve and Willa’s values, but grew from their desire to be good to each other and in life—and made for a highly successful card line.

Patti weastories we tell, jack johnsonves music throughout the story, and I have to admit—she (or should I say “Eve”) has great taste. Songs provide an escape for Eve, act as a precursor of moods, and evoke just the right feelings in the reader—if they’re familiar with the lyrics. But who doesn’t cinch up a bit inside or feel transported to a hazy memory when they hear “Landslide” — be it the Dixie Chicks or Fleetwood Mac version?

It just so happened that my ARC of THE STORIES WE TELL tagged along with me to the Jack Johnson concert in Saint Augustine last month. (I don’t go anywhere without a book.) Imagine my surprise when a day or so later I read about Eve listening one of my favorite J.J. songs, “Flake.”   I dropped the book. The book had just seen that song live! Talk about good karma.

Recommendation:

Buy it. Lovely writing, relatable characters, and a plot that will keep you reading until you discover the truth. Toss it in you beach bag (or summer concert bag!). Though the novel delves into some serious issues, it’s actually a relatively light read. At 272 pages, it’s perfect for a weekend away—one of the reasons it’s topping summer reading lists. It would be an excellent summer selection for book clubs as well—plenty of meaty, relevant topics to discuss, but short enough to fit in during the often hectic time of year.

 

The Details:
The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry
Release Date: June 24, 2014
Print Length:
272 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

 

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