The Woman Behind the Waterfall

A young girl must harness the power of her maternal line to help her mother in this debut novel.

Angela lives for the beauty of Ukraine in a simple life with her mother, Lyuda. While Angela discovers that she can become a bird, Lyuda slips into a depression, aided by the vodka she sips at night. Her own mother is dead, Angela’s father has left them, and while Lyuda’s childhood friend Sveta is their neighbor, she has not spoken to her in years. One afternoon by the river, Angela meets the spirit of her grandmother and is tasked with bringing out the memories in Lyuda that haunt her. The ethereal realm collides with reality as Lyuda is shown a different life: one where Volodiya, Angela’s father, stays to love her and provide her with an elegant home. But something is missing from this alternative universe: there is no daughter. She aches for Sveta’s daughter, Maria, to be her own, even as heartbreaking news about her own fertility is revealed. Which life is more worth living, the one without Volodiya, or the one without Angela? The spirit of her mother and daughter both will have to work hard to bring epiphany to Lyuda’s heavy heart. The scenery that Meriel’s tale inhabits is lush, with lilac bushes, golden sunshine, and delicious food. The narration switches liberally from character to character and from first person to third person, which can make it occasionally hard to follow, especially when Angela assumes her bird form. But while the magical realism of this evocative novel is sometimes-opaque, the story is never lost, grounded in Lyuda’s internal monologue and vivid memories. There are some chapters that lack nuance, such as the scenes written from Volodiya’s perspective, that of a young man burdened by his abusive father and, later, Lyuda’s pregnancy. By far, the book’s women are the most compelling characters, especially when Lyuda’s hard-earned acceptance of one of her paths is expressed in the final chapters. Readers looking for a classic tale of love and loss will be rewarded with an intoxicating world, especially if they can follow the more magical plotlines.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2016


Page Count: 271

Publisher: Granite Cloud

Review Posted Online: Aug. 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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