Title: COUNT THE WAYS
Author: Joyce Maynard
Read: January 2022
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟
After falling in love in the last
years of the 1970s, Eleanor and Cam follow their dream of raising three
children on a New Hampshire farm. Theirs is a seemingly idyllic life of summer
softball games and Labor Day cookouts, snow days and skating on the pond. But
when a tragic accident permanently injures the family’s youngest child, Eleanor
blames Cam. Her inability to forgive him leads to a devastating betrayal: an
affair with the family babysitter that brings about the end of their marriage.
Over the decades that follow, the five members of this fractured family—and the many others who make up their world—make surprising discoveries and decisions that occasionally bring them together, and often tear them apart. As we follow the family from the days of illegal abortion and the draft through the early computer age, the Challenger explosion, the AIDS epidemic, the early awakenings of the #MeToo era, and beyond, through the gender transition of one of the children and another’s choice to cease communication with her mother, we witness a family forced to confront essential, painful truths of its past and find redemption in the face of unanticipated disaster.
With endearingly flawed characters and a keen eye for detail, Joyce Maynard transforms the territory she knows best—home, family, parenthood, love, and loss—into the stuff of a page-turning thriller. In this achingly beautiful novel, she reminds us how great sorrow and great joy may coexist—and frequently do.
Every book I have ever read by Joyce Maynard managed to break my heart into a thousand pieces, and her latest is no exception to the rule! In an interview, Maynard stated that in COUNT THE WAYS she revisited the general concept of one of her earliest novels, WHERE LOVE GOES, which I read as a young mother and which remains one of my all-time favourite books. And yes, here again we have the themes of young marriage, parenthood, divorce and trying to survive the aftermath, but COUNT THE WAYS is set firmly in the present, making it extremely relatable.
Eleanor and Cam are a young couple in love, who settle on a small farm in New Hampshire where their three children are born in rapid succession. Life is simple but happy, until a terrible tragedy strikes, putting pressure on their marriage and ultimately being the catalyst for their divorce. In a broken family, blame and bitterness are often inevitable, which is a theme Eleanor in particular struggles with, whilst trying to protect her children from pain, even if it is at her own expense.
What lengths would you go to to protect your children? Fight dragons, put yourself in the path of a speeding car, sacrifice your soul to the devil? So does it come as a surprise that Eleanor will risk even losing her children’s love in order to shelter them from pain? I found this aspect of the novel the most heartbreaking, feeling pain and anger at witnessing Eleanor taking all the blame for the marriage breakup so her children will never be privy to the ugly truths leading up to it.
As we follow a young Eleanor from the 1970’s through to today, bearing witness to many of the historical events that touched her life (the explosion of the Challenger, Princess Diana’s and Michael Jackson’s death and more), this was both a family saga as well as a coming of age story of sorts, as her three children grow into adults. Having been around to live through some of these events myself, I found it easy to relate to all aspects of the story, and its characters took on the type of real-life quality that makes for the best reading experience. Full of heartfelt emotion, I found it hard to tear myself away from the story, and thoughts of Eleanor and her plight followed me into my dreams and thoughts for days after finishing the novel.
As I have said before, noone writes complicated relationships like Joyce Maynard! As with her previous books, Maynard shows an uncanny insight into the complexities of marriage and parenthood, again taking me on a true rollercoaster ride of emotions that left me heartsore and exhausted but so very glad that I was able to be part of these characters’ lives for a while.