Sunny Cooper has been running since she was eighteen—from the New Mexican commune where she grew up . . . and from the haunting memory of the freak accident that took the life of her younger sister. Now, at thirty-two, Sunny voices radio spots in Albuquerque while struggling to hold on to a floundering relationship. But when a second tragic accident—and the devastating truths that come to light in its aftermath—turns her world upside down, Sunny runs again.
In the town of Harmony on San Miguel Island, she takes a new job, learns to ride a motorcycle, and makes some surprising new friends. But the past is never far behind. A startling discovery—along with an emotional and revelatory reunion with her estranged mother—is forcing Sunny to step out from the shadows of yesterday to embrace an uncertain future.
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About the Author
A former journalist, copywriter, computer instructor, travel agent, waitress, and baker, Judith Ryan Hendricks is the author of three previous novels, including the bestseller Bread Alone. She and her husband live in New Mexico.
Read an Excerpt
The Laws of Harmony
The heat is a presence. Palpable and relentless, it rolls over Albuquerque like a hot iron.
Right behind it come the spring winds, pushing several thousand tons of dust from Arizona on through to Texas. Whistling around the corners of the buildings. Drying the new grass and flowers to brittle straws. Blowing patio furniture into someone else's yard. Making people yell at the spouse, kick the dog, slap the kid, start smoking again, drink more, drive faster.
Michael's already dressed for work and making coffee when I wander into the kitchen, wrapped in my terry cloth robe, still damp from the shower. I sidle up to kiss his neck, just where his dark hair is starting to creep down over his collar, and wipe away a little smear of shaving cream behind his ear. He reaches around me for his coffee mug and kisses the top of my head absently.
"It's supposed to be hot like this all week," he says. He sits down at the table and submerges himself in the newspaper.
"Want some cereal?" I take clean bowls and spoons out of the dishwasher.
I pull the box of corn flakes out of the pantry and pour some in my bowl, add milk, and sit down across from him. I've already eaten about half of my cereal when he looks up.
"Did you say something?"
"I asked if you wanted cereal. Since you didn't answer, I took it as a no."
"Sorry. I was thinking."
The coffee maker sighs, announcing the completion of its cycle. I pour some in his cup and set it on the table. "What are you doing today?"
"This morning I'm meeting with Ted Rossmore."
"Venture capital guy. Then this afternoon I've got a couple conference calls . . ." The silence is filled with the rustling of the newspaper, the clink of my spoon against the bowl.
After a minute or so, I lay my hand on his arm. "Tell me what's wrong."
He gives me an indulgent smile. "Nothing's wrong."
"Something feels wrong to me."
"Something always feels wrong to you. It's your normal state." He folds up the sports section and smiles at me. The intense blue of his eyes is still startling, even after almost three years of seeing it every day.
"What? I don't know what you want me to say."
"The truth. Whatever it is."
"The truth is, nothing's wrong." He pats my hand, which I guess is supposed to be reassuring, but it's a gesture so unlike him that it has the reverse effect.
"Okay, everything's great. But I still want us to sit down and have a conversation. Tonight."
He gets up, pours the dregs of his coffee in the sink. "Tonight," he says.
"Come home early, okay? I'll make a big salad and we can have a nice, relaxing—"
"I will." He gives me a quick coffee-flavored kiss.
The door shuts with that hollow sound, and I stir my soggy corn flakes while reviewing the evidence.
Exhibit A. I enter, damp from the shower, smelling of coconut body butter. I brush against him and kiss his neck lightly. His response? Reaching around me for his coffee mug and a mechanical peck on the top of the head. I didn't expect him to rip my robe off and throw me down on the breakfast table, but a real kiss would not have been out of place.
Exhibit B. Monday night. He came home late from his poker game, but I was still awake. I wanted to talk. He said he had e-mails to send. So I left him in his office and went to bed, tending the embers of my hurt feelings and resentment. I heard him come out of his office, walk into the living room. When the TV went on, the embers ignited. I marched into the living room and told him I was sick of his lying. He said, lying about what? I said he didn't really have any e-mails that couldn't wait till tomorrow; he was just avoiding talking to me. I wanted to know why. He said he was tired. I said he was always tired except when there was something he wanted to do. He said this was exactly why he was avoiding talking to me and, for that matter, why he was tired. Why couldn't I just cut him some slack, give him a little room to breathe. I said he could have the whole goddamned apartment to breathe in if he wanted it. I said I would leave in the morning. I told him I'd go stay with Betsy till he was finished breathing. Then I marched back into the bedroom, got back in bed, and seethed.
He came in about fifteen minutes later, and I pretended to be asleep. He knew I wasn't. He didn't take his clothes off. He just lay down next to me, on top of the covers, and put his hands on me. This was his solution to everything. Touching. Sex. I never knew how to tell him that it was those times when I felt the most distance between us. A yawning canyon full of all the things we never said. But that night I was tired, too. I was sad. I wanted him to hold me. I wanted things to be the way they were before. Before I started getting this panicky feeling that maybe things never really had been the way they were before.
On the other hand it's perfectly true, what he said. A perpetual sense of impending doom is my natural state. I should be used to it by now—this feeling that every next moment is a catastrophe waiting to happen.
So maybe it's just the wind.
I throw the coverlet up over the pillows—about as far as I'm willing to go toward making the bed. I slip on a gauzy Indian cotton dress, slide my feet into old leather sandals, and run a comb through my still-damp hair. Pull a sweater out of the drawer. It'll be freezing in the studio. The last thing I do is grab my medicine bundle necklace and loop it over my head.The Laws of Harmony
A Novel. Copyright (c) by Judith Hendricks . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Really enjoyed this book. I love the author and would love another 'Bread' book to see how those characters are doing. That said... This is an excellent story as well. Light but not fluff.
Sunny Cooper grew up in a New Mexico commune. However, when she was eighteen, an accident killed her younger sister freaking out Sunny. Unable to remain at the commune, she fled in self-exile barely able to communicate with her mom Gwen.
Fourteen years later, Sunny lives in Albuquerque, but still has not moved past her grief and thus remains somewhat estranged from her mom; both somewhat impact her relationship with her boyfriend Michael as she hides part of her self from him. When Michael dies in a questionable accident, the cops interrogate her like she is a killer and like a zillion cockroaches creditors surface demanding payments of Michael¿s enormous debt that she was ignorant existed. She flees to the commune, but mom remains the same out of touch happy hippie homemaker. Still needing escape, Sunny flees to Harmony on San Miguel Island off Washington State. However, her past follows her to the barrier island.
Sunny is the key to this intriguing character study of a person hammered by two tragedies in which she has obtained closure in neither. Whereas her mom wrote off her daughter¿s death as the laws of nature have taken back her younger child, Sunny internalized it. As to Michael, no one will let her move on. Although the story line has too many sidebars that subtract from the focus of THE LAWS OF HARMONY, a deep psychological drama of a person struggling to cope with traumas in a world that will not allow her to do so.
This story goes along with several ideas and then you turn the page to continue reading and all you get is the acknowledgement page. What? That's it? Yeah...thats it. There is just no purpose to this story and the ending is so flat...like the mesa she describes. Too bad. Try Isabels Daughter...much better. This turned me off so i will not try the "bread books" for fear of disappointment.
This is the kind of book that makes me hate my Nook. After I finished the e-book, I thought it was so good that I had to buy the paper copy, a habit I can’t afford to keep up! Hendricks is my favorite kind of writer – she effortlessly combines the humorous and the, well I wouldn’t use the word dark, but the serious anyway. I truly loved following Sunny, the protagonist, as she pieced her life back together with no small amount of sass. I particularly liked that the characters’ growth was relatively subtle and organic and that they changed without losing any part of themselves. (I’m intentionally being vague so I don’t spoil anything.) Go read the first chapter online and just try not to get sucked in.
For the most part I really enjoyed this book. Being from NM, I really enjoyed the NM references, especially being away from home is was like a nice little visit back to the state for me. Quite frankly, I wouldn't mind living on the NWestern island Sunny ends up on either. Hendricks' writing style is easy to read and follow. The book was rating a possible 4 stars for me but after a while I got a little weary of her reminiscing, although I still see where it was valuable to understand Sunny's character. Unfortunately, I think the background to Sunny's character ecentricites came a little too late in the book. By that time, I was getting annoyed and frustrated with her. If the events of Sunny's childhood had come out earlier in the book, I probably wouldn't have felt that annoyance. Also, I doubt if I would have resorted to skimming to many of her reminscences in the end. Despite that, I would still recommend this as a good beach read and look forward to a sequel. I think the author set the story up nicely for one.
The way this book began, I expected to be in for a little mystery, perhaps an intriguing one, maybe even engrossing but certainly not a book that would make me think. Long term boyfriend disappears. Missing boyfriend is found dead as a result of a car wreck. Strange people turn up to talk to the girlfriend. An article is published in the newspaper that ties the missing boyfriend to shady business dealings. Girlfriend discovers best friend slept with boyfriend. Then the girlfriend leaves town and the book becomes something completely different. Its no longer about the mystery but about a lonely woman trying to escape from the relationships that have turned so sour on her and how she reforges one relationship that she had dismissed for most of her life. I ended up adoring this book and thinking about the people who are important in my life and urging those people to read it so we could talk about it.
I've read all 4 of Judith's books, this being her 4th. Her novels are about women and their complex lives, and soooo well written She has characters that are likeable, that make you root for them....and she also includes one or two that you hope "get what they deserve". Her books are the ones I cannot put down, and I keep reading them until the words are so blurry, I HAVE to stop.....and most likely dream about because I was reading in bed again, falling asleep with the light on, again..... I am looking so forward to Judith's next book, which she is currently writing!
Judith Ryan Hendricks' fourth novel, The Laws of Harmony, opens in New Mexico and is narrated by Sunny Cooper - a 32 year old woman whose life is suddenly wrenched out from under her. When detectives arrive at Sunny's door to inform her that her fiance Michael has been killed in a fiery car crash, Sunny's grief is quickly replaced by confusion and then anger when she discovers Michael was keeping secrets from her. 'There was an aura about him - daring, adventurous, carefree, almost joyful - but with a darkness just under the surface. Like you could scratch him with a fingernail and find something you might not really want to see. - from The Laws of Harmony, page 68 -' The tragedy opens a floodgate of memories from Sunny's childhood growing up in a commune - the drugs, sex and rock n' roll; her close relationship with a brother who has since disappeared from her life; the sister she lost to a freak accident; and the strained connection she still has with her mother. On an impulse, Sunny sells nearly all her possessions and quits her job, heading west to a new future in the tiny town of Harmony on San Miguel Island. 'I've entered a different world, and my heart suddenly lifts. It seems I've finally slipped the gravitational pull of New Mexico, and the past is dropping away behind me like a spent booster rocket. - from The Laws of Harmony, page 146 -' The Laws of Harmony is a novel about personal growth, the impact of the past on our future, and the delicate connections we make with other people. Sunny's journey is not just a physical one from New Mexico to Harmony. Her memories do not simply stop the moment she leaves the desert and arrives on the fog enshrouded island of San Miguel. Sunny's journey from despair to hope and her gradual understanding that she cannot walk through life alone is what drives the narrative.and it is a compelling and satisfying story. Hendricks is a capable and talented writer whose prose is filled with warmth, humor and a deep understanding of what it means to be human. Half way through the novel, I found myself immersed in Sunny's world, comforted by the rich descriptions of food, and not wanting the novel to end. Although there is a bit of a mystery in the book, it is not the mystery which kept me turning the pages. Hendricks' ability to create character is her strength, and it is the characters who engaged me. The best novels are those which leave the reader with a more acute awareness of what motivates a character - and a better understanding of how a character's life might parallel our own. The Laws of Harmony does both those things. The writing is accessible and honest. Judith Ryan Hendricks has written a novel which women especially will love. If you are looking for a comfortable and gratifying summer read, look no further. Highly recommended.
When Sunny Cooper turns eighteen she flees the commune she grew up in, trying to get away from her mother's hippie lifestyle and the tragic death of her little sister. Just as she begins to piece together a normal life, her fiance dies in a car crash, and she is forced to face the fact that their life was full of secrets and half truths. No longer certain of anything she flees again in search of a life she can believe in.
This is the story of a woman trying to reinvent her life in the face of tragedy and uncertainty. What makes this book really stand out is Judith Hendriks Ryan's beautiful sense of place and character. Both the mesa of New Mexico and the town of Harmony on San Miguel Island are almost characters in the book, they are so realistically and thoroughly described. In these destinctive settings she places unique and interesting characters. The relationship between Sunny and her mother will feel familiar to many women who read this book. The struggle between seperating from your mother and the strong maternal pull is a classic one and the author gets balance right.
If you have read Judith Hendricks Ryan's other books and loved her eloquent descriptions of food don't despair. Sunny is a chef and baker and there is a lot of cooking in this book as well. In the end this is a satisfying story of a woman finding herself and her place in the world.