The Embers
Hyatt Bass
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Buy *The Embers* by Hyatt Bass online

The Embers
Hyatt Bass
Henry Holt
304 pages
June 2009
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In her debut novel, Hyatt Bass makes no excuses for this accomplished upper-middle class family who find themselves rocked by betrayal, tragedy, and the effects of secret wounds left unmentioned. With a singular purpose, the author follows the arc of the Ascher family over a period of fifteen years, effectively exposing their deepest yearnings and their darkest regrets.

Emily Ascher, daughter of the popular actor-turned-playwright Joe Ascher - is planning to marry her latest beau, Clay, a handsome Asian-American. The novel opens as Emily, Clay, and Emily’s mother, Laura, are surveying a site for reception. Emily has made an impulsive decision to hold the wedding in a remote area of the Berkshires, where the old family home used to stand.

Here amid the apple and scarlet maple trees, the flowering meadows and the rolling Berkshire Hills an image of Emily’s brother, Thomas, “back up in the trees and out of reach,” continues to descend on the family, providing Emily a sense of perspective as she battles her continuing rift with her parents, both of them seemingly difficult at best.

Since 1992, Laura, Joe, Thomas, and Emily have stumbled through one crisis after another. Laura, whose desire to be an actor was subjugated to Joe’s artistic needs, is now divorced from Joe and married to Earl, a wealthy Texan. For Joe, life has been a mixed bag of pent-up memories and silent animosities. Even a hot affair with a long-time family friend, the glamorously disheveled and charmingly neurotic Gina, has done little assuage his disappointment at his situation.

Escaping to write a travel piece on a hotel in the Midwest, the trip offers him a chance to get away from New York and refuel his artistic leanings so that he can perhaps start work on a new play. When he meets the girl Ingrid, “full of dreams, so full of life, innocent and vulnerable,” he realizes that for all this time that he’s been carrying the memory of Laura, her voice her smile, and her laugh.

Undoubtedly these people have remained close, but they suffer the constant urge to put each other down. Emily now has a strained relationship with Joe and is not quite so secure in her new career as a lawyer. She’s also anxious about the future, especially over her impending nuptials to Clay. Then there’s Laura, still intent to meddle in Emily’s personal affairs yet strangely wondering how much she has been responsible for the years of strain between herself and her daughter.

Bass presents her characters vividly, their misplaced expectations and miscommunications layered in this instinctual drama against the present and the past. At the heart of this novel is the chaos of the human condition and how these people must overcome tragedy to remake their relationships with each other. Their internal quandaries and petty judgments drive much of healing process. Obviously the tragedy involving Thomas is devastating, but the restorative power of love ultimately gives this sensitive and powerful novel much of its heart.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2009

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