The course of grieving an irreparable loss is as curving and full of unexpected turns as the winding Maine byway that gives Ayelet Waldman’s new novel its title. It begins as tragedy often does, with the previously unimaginable suddenly, brutally made real. The road’s sharp turn in the direction of blazing afternoon sunlight is responsible for taking the lives of John Tetherly and his radiant bride, Becca Copaken, not one hour after they are wed in an idyllic country church. It is Red Hook Road’s muscular bend — with expansive views of a rocky tidal cove — that delivers Jane Tetherly and Iris Copaken the mute wreckage that bears the remains of their children. And the many short journeys along Red Hook Road thereafter mirror the Tetherlys’ and Copakens’ tentative steps across the emotional minefield that exists in the aftermath of the couple’s death.
As the narrative moves the families through three consecutive summers after the tragedy, this stretch of coastal highway also serves to bridge the considerable divide between class and culture. Becca’s intellectual sister Ruthie is compelled to take circuitous routes away from the scene of the disaster to spend more time with Matt, the youngest of John’s siblings and also the first to go to college. But music is directly transported down the road through the efforts of violin virtuoso Emil Kimmelbrod, Becca’s ailing grandfather, as he instructs John’s preternaturally talented niece.
Battered by a series of emotional storms and ravaged by wind, rain, and waves, Red Hook Road comes to embody the very lives of its denizens. As Waldman unfurls her story with a pace befitting grief’s peculiar one-step-forward-two-steps-back progress, narrative and road merge to form a complex conduit for healing and an elegiac meditation on what within us remains after the tempest has undone an orderly life.