It is clear that Kristin Hannah’s writing blossomed dramatically between writing this novel and writing her master work The Nightingale. I was hoping to be drawn into similarly beautifully drawn scenes with intricate plot lines as I was in that great novel – and I was sorely disappointed here. While there started to be an intriguing idea for the story, and it began well enough, it just was not developed with the same sophistication and elegance as that later work.
This story begins with young Bret preparing the saddle early in the morning for his mom, Mikaela, to have her early morning horseback ride. Suddenly, something was noticeably off and Bret watched as his mom started jumped the horse and the horse stopped and Mikaela was thrown forward, banging her head against a pole, sustaining a severe head injury. The next thing they all knew, their lives were thrown upside-down, as Mikaela was in a deep coma and it was unclear if she’d ever recover. What comes after tests the love each of the family members has for each other.
There are some truly brilliant moments in this story and the basic plot is a clever one. The test of love that Mikaela’s husband, Liam, faces is a fascinating ethical dilemma that I think many would find paralyzingly difficult. And there are tender scenes between the various family members that are quite sweet.
However, the writing itself is somewhat simplistic. The plot could be more involved, with more story lines woven into the main one. The characters could be much more multi-dimensional – they are extremely flat – and, wow, is the latter half of the story just pure saccharine-sweetness! It felt as if the author herself got bored with the book about halfway through and just wanted to be over and done with the project, so she wrote whatever came out easily. It was quite anti-climactic.
So, stick with The Nightingale, and forget about this one, I’d say…