Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman

Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman
Click the link to purchase your copy of Red Hook Road from
Author: Ayelet Waldman
Publisher: Anchor
Copyright Date: 2011
Foundational Characters: Daniel and Iris Copaken, Ruthie Copaken, Mr. Kimmelbrod, Jane Tetherly, Matt Tetherly, Becca Copaken, John Tetherly
Standard Rating: A
Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars
Available Formats: Trade Paperback, Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307275825
ISBN-13: 978-0307275820
Book Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.9 inches
Page Count: 352
Genre: Fiction
Sub-Genre: Family, Saga, Contemporary Women’s Fiction, Literary, Literature,
Tags: Fiction, Grief, Death, Family, Wedding, Class, Marriage, Family


As lyrical as a sonata, Ayelet Waldman’s follow-up novel to Love and Other Impossible Pursuits explores the aftermath of a family tragedy.

Set on the coast of Maine over the course of four summers, Red Hook Road tells the story of two families, the Tetherlys and the Copakens, and of the ways in which their lives are unraveled and stitched together by misfortune, by good intentions and failure, and by love and calamity.

A marriage collapses under the strain of a daughter’s death; two bereaved siblings find comfort in one another; and an adopted young girl breathes new life into her family with her prodigious talent for the violin. As she writes with obvious affection for these unforgettable characters, Ayelet Waldman skillfully interweaves life’s finer pleasures—music and literature—with the more mundane joys of living. Within these resonant pages, a vase filled with wildflowers or a cold beer on a hot summer day serve as constant reminders that it’s often the little things that make life so precious. (From the author’s website)


“This book made me happy, and happy to be alive. It took me out of my home on the coast of South Carolina, placed me in the town along Red Hook Road, and changed me the way good books always do.”

PAT CONROY, My Reading Life

“A thoroughly gripping and elegantly written story about love, grief, friendship, and the unexpected ways in which disaster brings families together.”

KHALED HOSSEINI, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns

“Red Hook Road is a masterful imagining of the way a single tragic event impacts the psyches and behaviors and dynamics of two families. Waldman’s writing is elegant and riveting.”

KELLY CORRIGAN, The Middle Place and Lift

The Revelation

Admittedly, it took me a long time to get through this book. The plot unfolded very slowly. However, I tend to be an optimist, and I am a patient person, so I allowed the plot to unfold as it would. I questioned whether I would actually finish the book on a few occasions. After one of these-the last one-I decided that Waldman had something interesting and profound to say, and that she was simply taking her time getting to it. That was the point that I stopped requiring more out of the book than it provided immediately.

Red Hook Road is a good example of the difference between fiction and literature. The authors of numerous works of fiction spell everything out for their readers. In effect, authors of basic fiction tell their readers, “This is what I want you to see, this is what I want you to feel, this is what I want you to take away from this narrative.” The lessons, the meaning, the essence, the meat and potatoes of the story are spoon-fed to the reader. Don’t get me wrong; I like a good spoon-feeding as much as the next guy. But I also cherish a read that makes me think, that makes me ponder, that makes me struggle. All along, I had an idea of the point Waldman was getting at. All along, I could see where she was going. She laid the groundwork of her thesis for well over three hundred pages, and when she finally gets to it, she couches it in metaphor:

“Oh,” she said, wiping her eyes, not sure what was bringing her to tears. “Poor Matt.” That was not sufficient to explain the strange mixture of sorrow and gratitude that she felt, sheltering in her husband’s strong arms. But it would have to do.

“Poor Matt,” Daniel agreed. “But, like he said, it’s only a boat.”

That was true, Iris would sometimes think, about marriage: it was only a boat, too. A wooden boat, difficult to build, even more difficult to maintain, whose beauty derived at least in part from its unlikelihood. Long ago, the pragmatic justifications for both marriage and wooden-boat building had been lost or superseded. Why invest countless hours, years, and dollars in planning and carving, gluing and fastening, caulking and fairing, when a fiberglass boat can be had at a fraction of the cost? Why struggle to maintain love and commitment over decades when there were far easier ways to live, ones that required no effort or attention to prevent corrosion and rot? Why continue to pour your heart into these obsolete arts? Because their beauty, the way they connect you to your history and to the living world, justifies your efforts. A long marriage, like a classic wooden boat, could be a thing of grace, but only if great effort was devoted to its maintenance. At first your notions of your life with another were no more substantial than a pattern laid down in plywood. Then year by year you constructed the frame around the form, and began layering memories, griefs, and small triumphs like strips of veneer planking bent around the hull of everyday routine. You sanded down the rough edges, patched the misunderstandings, faired the petty betrayals. Sometimes you sprung a leak. You fell apart in rough weather or were smashed on devouring rocks. But then, as now, in the teeth of a storm, when it seemed like all was lost, the timber swelled, the leak sealed up, and you found that your craft was, after all, sea-kindly (338-339).

After I read that passage, I almost stood up and gave the novel a standing ovation. Her metaphor was beautifully laid out, perfectly placed, and well-received-at least by this reader. Yes, it took me a while to get through this book. But I believed I found what Waldman wanted me to find, most of it anyway. She sprinkled a few points of interest throughout the story. It was enough to keep me coming back for more, and enough to convince me that she had more to say.

I found the characters very intriguing. They were very relatable, even though I have never been to Maine or New York City. And I don’t know any Jews. But I felt like I knew these characters, like we were friends hanging out on the beach eating lobster salad watching fireworks. That is literature.


This novel contains numerous instances of adult language, sex, and musings related to other adult subjects.

Click the link to purchase your copy of Red Hook Road from
This entry was posted in Ayelet Waldman, Book Review, Contemporary Women's Fiction, Drama, Family, Fiction, Literary, Literature, Saga and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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