The Embers
Hyatt Bass
June 23, 2009
304 pages
Henry Holt and Co.
General Fiction

It’s the fall of 2007, and Emily Ascher should be celebrating: she just got engaged to the man she loves, her job is moving in new and fulfilling directions, and her once-rocky relationship with her mother, Laura, has finally mellowed into an easy give-and-take. But with the promise of new love

Settling into old comes a difficult look at how her family has been torn apart in the many years since her brother died. Her parents have long since divorced, and her father, Joe, a famous actor and playwright who has been paralyzed with grief since the tragedy, carries the blame for his son’s death—but what really happened on that winter night? Why has he been unable to clear his name, or even discuss that evening with Laura and Emily?

As spring looms—and with it Emily’s wedding in the Berkshires and an unveiling of Joe’s new play—each Ascher begins to reevaluate the events of long ago, finally facing the truth of his or her own culpability in them. Moving between past and present over the course of sixteen years, The Embers is a skillfully structured debut novel of buried secrets and deep regrets that crush a family while bonding its members irrevocably.

I am unsure of how to begin this review because I am still trying to wrap my head around my feelings about The Embers.  The thing is, I liked the book.  I REALLY liked the book, even more than I expected to – but I’m not sure why.  I can say with absolute certainty that one of the reasons the book spoke to me so much was Bass’ beautiful writing.  She definitely has an amazing talent at crafting passages and conversations between characters that draw the reader in and really make you think.  Another reason I think I enjoyed the book so much was because of my difficulty in parting with it for any length of time.  Something about the story and the characters just grabbed me and didn’t let go.

Here’s the weird part:  I didn’t like any of the characters, and the entire time I was reading this novel I kept thinking to myself, “these people are so annoying.  I should be hating this book right now, but I’m not.  Why is that?!”  The three main characters were all so completely self-absorbed, so unaware of the world around them, and I had a really difficult time with all three of them.  I honestly cannot think of another book I’ve read recently where I so detested the characters but still enjoyed the book, so it’s really a tribute to Bass’s phenomenal writing and story telling abilities that made me come away with a deep appreciation for this novel.

I always have a soft spot in my heart for books that go back and forth between time periods – if it’s done well, this effect can really make a huge impact on the reader. The Embers is an example of this – I never felt lost or confused while reading the book, even though it was jumping between time periods and different characters’ points of view.  I really can’t say enough about Hyatt Bass here – she truly has put together a stunning debut, with flawed but (sadly) realistic characters and an interesting, fast-moving plot.  There was a lot I loved about the book, even though I’m having a difficult time articulating the specifics right now.  :)  Just know that I couldn’t put it down, and I am anxiously awaiting something new from Ms. Bass!

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