Most people are probably familiar with Madeleine L'Engle from her young adult novels, such as the Newbury Award winner, A Wrinkle in Time. However, she has also written many books for adults, including her journals and novels.
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L'Engle's novels for adults are often similar in theme to her young adult novels, intertwining self-reflection with spiritual themes, and usually giving at least a passing mention to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and the surrounding neighborhood, where L'Engle herself often lived.
::: A Story of Two Davids :::
As Certain Women opens, we are introduced to Emma Wheaton and her father, David, both New York stage actors. David is dying, and Emma has come to spend the summer with him and his eighth wife on his boat, the Portia to say her goodbyes.
However, Emma has more to come to terms with than her father's terminal illness. Her marriage to a celebrated playwright, Nik Green, appears to be over, and as she and her father remember the past, they are drawn together over an aborted play of Nik's based on the Bible story of King David and his wives. The parallels between David Wheaton's life and that of the Biblical King force both father and daughter to face ghosts of the past and make their peace before David died.
::: Telling the Story :::
As with many of her novels, L'Engle switches constantly between plot lines. Through Nik's play, we see the story of David and his wives, and through Emma's viewpoint, we also learn David Wheaton's past as well as see his present as family members come to say goodbye, including two of his ex-wives. As David and Emma confront each memory, we also see how closely his life has followed that of the Hebrew King's, as well as where their fates are dissimilar.
Emma is also forced to look at her marriage to Nik when he comes to visit her father, as well as how her grief over events in her lives has impacted her marriage as well as her life.
::: Goliath Can't Be Vanquished That Easily :::
L'Engle, who has shown what a light hand she can have at interweaving religious elements with her secular plotlines, is so heavy-handed with this story that you feel as if you are reading the script for a Star Wars film. Look! The father's name is David! And he's had all these wives! And his wife Abigail is the wise friend, even after the divorce, just like the wise Abigail in the Bible story! It's funny that in the course of re-reading some of L'Engle's books in order to review them, I find my two least favorite, but Certain Women is one of maybe two books of hers that I really can't say I loved.
From the very beginning, you can spot the ending of the story, and the huge cast of characters means that far too many get short shrift in character development. Even for a die-hard L'Engle fan like myself, there just isn't enough meat here, unlike her other fiction for adults. I just didn't find myself caring enough about Emma or her family, no matter what tragedy or triumph she dealt with. While the advice given to Emma is to choose a wedding in life over a funeral, the book doesn't take its own advice.
This review is part of sleeper54's Lean 'n Mean III W/O.