Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelly Rowley


Title: The Ramblers
Author: Aidan Donnelly Rowley
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 9, 2016
Source: copy provided for an honest review by the publisher

Summary from Goodreads

Set in the most magical parts of Manhattan—the Upper West Side, Central Park, Greenwich Village—The Ramblers explores the lives of three lost souls, bound together by friendship and family. During the course of one fateful Thanksgiving week, a time when emotions run high and being with family can be a mixed blessing, Rowley’s sharply defined characters explore the moments when decisions are deliberately made, choices accepted, and pasts reconciled.

Clio Marsh, whose bird-watching walks through Central Park are mentioned in New York Magazine, is taking her first tentative steps towards a relationship while also looking back to the secrets of her broken childhood. Her best friend, Smith Anderson, the seemingly-perfect daughter of one of New York’s wealthiest families, organizes the lives of others as her own has fallen apart. And Tate Pennington has returned to the city, heartbroken but determined to move ahead with his artistic dreams.

Rambling through the emotional chaos of their lives, this trio learns to let go of the past, to make room for the future and the uncertainty and promise that it holds. The Ramblers is a love letter to New York City—an accomplished, sumptuous novel about fate, loss, hope, birds, friendship, love, the wonders of the natural world and the mysteries of the human spirit.


My Review:

The Ramblers tickled my fancy to pick up for review because you all know I just looooove a good character-driven, relationship-based drama.  This sounded like exactly the sort of thoughtful contemporary fiction that I'd be into, especially because the 3 protagonists are all in my age range (early- to mid-thirties).  And who doesn't love New York City?

In the end, I have to say I liked The Ramblers, though I can't go so far as to say I adored it.  Let's break down the pros and cons.

Pros: The prose is incredibly perceptive, peppered with insightful observations about self-actualization, the trials and tribulations of romance, and family bonds.  Rowley creates many a gorgeous metaphor between the characters' lives and the book's common plot points (birds, Central Park, photography, etc), so there's no lack of symbolism here.  Thoughtful writing: check.

I also especially enjoyed Clio as a character, along with her handsome Irish suitor, Henry.  (Seriously, if there is someone who is prime candidate for Book Boyfriend of the Year, Henry is IT.)  Clio appeals to me because she comes from humble beginnings and a turbulent childhood, so her now-privileged adulthood comes off as more unpretentious.  Her problems feel tangible, relateable.  I was a big fan of her storyline.

Cons: While the writing is perceptive, it is also incredibly verbose--borderline tedious at times.  The protagonists' long-winded introspections about their lives started to get some eye-rolling from me after a while.  It was too much, and this book could have probably cut at least 20 pages without much trouble.

Also, for as much as I liked Clio's character, I found myself rather turned off by Smith and Tate.  Smith was hard for me to find sympathy towards.  She's been spoiled by her parents for all 34 years of her life, and is now frustrated that she is having trouble getting out from under their millions in order to forge her own path.  Um, boo hoo, I guess?  I can tell that Rowley tried valiantly to write Smith as a down-to-earth woman despite her social status, but it just didn't happen for me.  Her problems felt trite.  As for Tate, he was so aloof and crass at times that I just plain old didn't like him.  As a duo, I was not digging them at all (though I guess it did seem that they deserved each other, in a way).

In the end, The Ramblers is a solid 3-star novel for me.  There's lots to enjoy here, especially the penetrating prose.  However, there are an equal number of downsides that keep this from being a stand-out read.

What's the last character you read that you felt was difficult to relate to, for whatever reason?

4 comments:

  1. I'm such a sucker for these types of books...but I also feel like they're really hard to get right. But, when it happens, it's glorious! So much relies on the intangibles...the writing, the life observations, the character development, etc.

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    1. I agree! I think this one was on the right track, but missed in a few keys areas. I love a good finding-yourself novel when done well.

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  2. I also love this sort of book! I just read a book covering similar themes, Jansma's Why We Came to the City, and I can tell you now that it will be a five-star rave review for me. I think you might really enjoy it too :)

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