The Embers is a sad, sad story.
I say this immediately so any hope you may hold that things are going to improve for the doomed Ascher family will evaporate before you even crack the spine of Hyatt Bass’s debut novel. Trust me — I wish I’d been so warned.
Joe, Laura and Emily are the remaining members of the Ascher clan, three very different, jaded and bitter people dealing with the loss of Thomas, Joe and Laura’s son and Emily’s older brother. The novel opens in 2007, more than a decade after Thomas’s death, and flits between the past and present. We’re given the tragic story in pieces, each new development adding to the mosaic of what we know of Joe’s narcissistic tendencies to obsess over his plays and acting career, his marital problems with Laura, Emily’s acts of rebellion and what really happened to Thomas. Nothing is really as it seems, but everything ended up the way I expected it to.
The Embers is an exploration of family, betrayal, grief, forgiveness and aspirations — and what it means to love and try to love completely. All of these themes were quite well developed, but my fundamental problem with the novel was this: I didn’t like any of the characters. Any of them.
To me, everyone in this novel was hopelessly devoid of redemption — totally self-absorbed, screwed up and blind. The beginning of The Embers was moody, atmospheric and even a little creepy, setting the backdrop for the wedding present-day Emily is planning with kind, gentle fiance Clay. But Emily is so haunted by the death of her brother and weighed down by the complicated non-relationship she has with Joe, she’s unable to really be present in her own life. And that’s just down-right depressing.
We know that though Laura, Joe and Emily have been living their lives apart in recent years and pretending to have found peace since the tragedy that gutted their family, they must ultimately come back together to truly heal. Are they able to honestly confront the past? Are they, in fact, beyond help?
I won’t tell you that, of course. If you’re looking for a very deep, gritty and occasionally moving exploration of one family just imploding upon itself, The Embers is a pretty good psychological read. I definitely felt as though I’d been on a journey after finishing, and I closed the book with a knot in my stomach. I’d spent almost 300 pages with people I didn’t much care for, and I can only hope they someday find the peace I did after finally finishing this one!
3 out of 5!