Valerie Martin
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Buy *Trespass* by Valerie Martinonline

Valerie Martin
304 pages
September 2008
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Trespass.

Chloe and Brendan Dale live a charmed life of middle-aged bourgeois respectability in the Catskills. Chloe is an art illustrator working on some etchings of a book about Wuthering Heights, and Brendan is a successful college professor currently writing a book about the Fifth Crusade.

When Chloe meets her twenty-one year-old son, Toby, for lunch at a chic Manhattan restaurant, the gathering is plagued with tension. Toby is about to introduce Chloe to Salome Drago, a young girl originally of Croatian decent who now hails from Louisiana and has recently moved to New York to study.

An easygoing and likeable boy, Toby has spent much of his life guided by the good will of Chloe and Brendan. He fully expects Salome to meet with their approval, and hopefully charm his mother. But the luncheon doesn't go the way that Toby initially hopes, and with Chloe's mind full of self-congratulatory musings, her heart becomes set against this dark-headed girl from some "refugee swamp."

In reality, Chloe reacts to Salome with a grave mixture of resentment and suspicion, "that devious creature with her cold eyes and hot body, with her peasant's build." She constantly vacillates between stabs of pity and animosity for this poor young girl, so clearly out of her element and on the defensive.

When Toby invites Salome to the house for a family dinner, Brendan is determined to treat her kindly. Supportive, understanding and confident, he masks his concern for his son beneath a veil of goodwill. Meanwhile, Chloe's outrage is balanced against the idealistic Toby, who believes that his affair with Salome somehow holds the possibility of changing the world.

Toby abruptly reveals that Salome is pregnant. The disclosure stuns Chloe and Brendan, and they suddenly find themselves catapulted into the tumultuous history of Salome's life. On a trip back to Louisiana to visit Branko Drago, Salome's immigrant father, Toby also learns of Branko's violent past during the Yugoslavian War, where he witnessed the death of his mother, wife and son, and his narrow escape to a new world.

Author Valerie Martin skillfully intertwines the fates of Chloe, Brendan and Toby with that of the Drago family, particularly that of Salome's mother, Jelena, who gradually becomes a powerful and surprisingly influential character. Her struggles to survive in war-torn Croatia in the early 1990s become a powerful symbol for endurance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

From the outset, the battle lines are uncomfortably drawn in this novel, particularly when the hardscrabble immigrant experiences of the Dragos gradually clash with the Dales cautious and wary middle-class solicitude.

The "trespass" of the title is really a reflection of the characters' darkest fears and their inability to trust their instincts: Chloe protests against the injustice of her son's attraction to a woman she doesn't trust, one who threatens her at the vulnerable core of her motherhood; Salome, a woman with enormous self-confidence, coolly assesses any opposition to her views, her look teeming with defiance and calculation; Branko is the noble, kindly immigrant, considered to be the "Oyster King" but insufficiently royal to pay for his clever daughter's college education.

Meanwhile, naive Toby, who once didn't have a care in the world, is now responsible for an unborn child and has been forced to defend his mate with his fists. Finally, there's Brendan, the reserved academic who has spent much of his life buried in books and ink, absorbed in the past, timorous with the present yet plunged irrevocably into the future in another country.

In this morally complex novel, Martin talks of the misunderstandings of class, the collective outrage at the current Iraq War, and the atrocities committed by the Serbs in the Balkan crisis of the early 1990s. A recurring motif is that of the story of Wuthering Heights, the saga of Heathcliff and Catherine providing much needed support for Chloe, while also coming to represent the themes of social status verses geography, an important and relevant facet of this quite remarkable and beautifully written book.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2007

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