“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.” -Anne Lamott
Where Hope Begins is the story of grace in the midst of brokenness, pointing us to the miracles that await when we look beyond our own expectations.
Still reeling from a family tragedy years before, Savanna Barrington is just barely holding it together. When her husband leaves her for another woman, she runs away to the solace of her family’s home in the Berkshires to lick her wounds. Though angry, she must hold it together while she acts as the mediator for her children and her family with the husband who betrayed her. But Savanna feels as barren as the winter snow outside her front door.
Then she meets her next door neighbors, the elderly but spunky Clarice, her reclusive nephew Brock and his daughter Maysie. These three invade her solitude and provide her with solace in their own ways. Maysie with her childlike faith and laughter, Clarice with her mature faith and offer to tend a dead garden and Brock with his appreciation and attraction to Savanna.
But running away only offers a temporary reprieve. Savannah must eventually face the problems which led not only to the breakdown of her marriage but also to the breakdown of her family.
Catherine West is an expert at portraying realistic human emotions, family bonds and the struggles that we all must face at some time or another in our lives. I can always count on her stories to be thoughtful, convicting and moving. Where Hope Begins continues that grand tradition. In fact, I think it may be the best so far of all West’s novels and that is saying a lot!
As Tolstoy once wrote in Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The Barringtons are one of those very unhappy families. Each one struggles to deal with past grief and trauma in their own way. But those struggles are done quietly and alone. None of them are able to express the depth of their still unresolved emotions. It is their individual quiet battles that create more damage to the family unit. It is extremely difficult to watch them all trying so hard not to burden the others not realizing that they are each falling apart inside.
All the characters in this story are complex and unique. Savanna is easy to sympathize with at first. But as her story was slowly revealed, I also found myself frustrated with her self-pity and inability to let go and heal. It’s almost as if she wants to wallow in her misery. Or perhaps she just doesn’t know how to crawl out of it. Her growing relationships with her Berkshire neighbors are sweet, funny and endearing in the midst of all the seriousness. Maysie and Clarice are emotional twins despite the large age gap. Each one bolstering Savanna’s lack of faith. Each one accepting her just as she is. Brock is at first surly but then startsto display unexpected depth and charm. His care and concern for Savanna almost had me cheering for her to use him as a way to revenge herself on her husband.
No one however was a bigger surprise than Savanna’s husband Kevin. It’s so easy to make an adulterer the villain of a story. And I did start out really disliking this man who not only cheated on his wife, but then abandons her for the other woman. But this isn’t a cliche story and Catherine West does not write one note characters. As I continued reading, I found myself developing not only compassion but understanding for Kevin. His actions are never excused, but are finally explained. His eventual remorse and repentance is sincere. It left me feeling torn between Brock and Kevin, just as Savanna finds herself.
This is a story about family tragedy, about loss and betrayal and all the emotions that go along with it. But it doesn’t just delve the depths of the worst. It also shines light into that darkness, showing hope, redemption and restoration. It is a rare book that engages my emotions in a physical expression. But Where Hope Begins had me crying in a good way as the author wraps up all the dark threads into a colorful and stunning picture of love and hope.
The Anne Lamott quote is one of many that headlines each chapter and perfectly sums up this beautifully human story. But I’ll also leave you with one of the author’s own.
“Sometimes we are allowed to glimpse the beauty within the brokenness…”
Where Hope Begins is currently on sale for Kindle.