I received a free ARC of this book from The Story Plant in exchange for my honest review.
Steven Manchester is a familiar name to me as a Story Plant reader; I read his book THE CHANGING SEASON almost exactly a year ago now, and reviewed it here on the blog. I remember enjoying the book, though the details hadn’t stuck with me, so I figured that I’d have a similar time of it with ASHES.
I was entirely right.
The book follows brothers Tom and Jason Prendergast–Tom is a college professor, Jason a corrections officer, and the two brothers have been estranged for a good chunk of their adult lives. But when their father passes (a loos neither man grieves for; their father was a grade-A jerk, and that’s putting it lightly) his will insists that in order for them to earn their inheritance from his estate, they need to travel–together–from Salem, Massachusetts to Seattle, Washington, by car, in order to spread his ashes. Needless to say, this isn’t either brother’s idea of a good time, but they agree begrudgingly, each hoping that there is a financial windfall waiting for them in the envelope the lawyers tell them contains their inheritance. Tom’s marriage is falling apart, Jason’s fizzled out years ago, and now his daughter is planning her own wedding–which he’s agreed to pay for. In each of their minds, they have a thousand better things to be doing than wasting their time with their brother who they hate.
But as is so often the case, long car rides bring out secrets and truths long hidden and obscured, and the two begin to see that maybe…just maybe…the other brother is worth keeping around, at least for a while. They may have more in common than they ever realized.
I don’t have a sibling, so I can’t perfectly imagine the journey, and I’ve always been lucky enough to have good relationships with my parents. However, the themes in this book are universal: love, forgiveness, redemption. Self-reflection. Family and the dysfunction too often found within. That feeling when a problem you allowed to destroy your life in the past…just doesn’t seem that important anymore. Watching Tom and Jason travel both physically and emotionally throughout the book is a brilliant insight into the life of the grown child, coming to terms with a past that didn’t always do right by them, and the parents who might have been more than they ever knew–for better or worse.
Manchester’s writing, while evocative, is a little odd: over-descriptive in some aspects, while glaringly less so in others. (I mean, I know the old joke about action heroes never going to the bathroom, but we were kept more apprised of Tom’s bathroom habits that we truly ever needed to be, even with the bit of plot that it eluded to. Also, there is a tendency to repeat full names–something I’ve picked at in thrillers frequently–which I find irritating and unnecessary. But that’s just me.) Both characters were believable–important with they are essentially the only two characters in the book. Real and touching, with an ending that brought a tear to my eye, Manchester has provided another poignant slice-of-life book to the shelves.
Rating: **** (Recommended)
ASHES will hit shelves February 21st, 2017.