Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Geographies of the Heart by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

I anticipated loving Geographies of the Heart when I saw that Al and Sarah my favorite characters from Summie’s brilliant short story collection To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts were its main characters. I set aside a day to read it and found myself taking breaks at the end of each chapter because I never wanted it to end and I needed to think about each section. On the fourth day, I allowed myself to read the last chapters as I sighed over the joy of living in a world in which a novelist like Summie can envelop a reader so completely. I adore this novel and the broad, yet intimate connections it forges with its multi-dimensional, fully human characters and the reader lucky enough to meet them. 

When the novel opens in 1994, Sarah, a college senior searching for a job, meets Al, a Ph.D. student. He’s large, lumbering, and shy and I’m head-over-heels in love with him. “Al had the heart of a puppy in the body of a bear.”

Sarah is responsible with a capital “R.” Her family always comes first. She cares for her grandparents as they adjust to life in a nursing home, she worries over her younger sister Glennie, a single-minded medical student with no time for family, she attends to her parents, and when she and Al have a baby, she’s a wonderful mother. She and Al complement each other and their happy marriage with its humor and caring lifts them both when the inevitable wounds of life strike. “He was hers. His landscape, his terrain, were the world she breathed.”

Sarah, Al, and Glennie narrate the novel sharing their viewpoints of the geography of their shared history that influence their actions. Each of them keenly observes the world around them and each of them shows us how we, too, channel our grief and hurt feelings through the narrow perspective of our singular tunnel vision.

When I read, I keep Post-it note flags at hand to mark passages I want to recall or revisit. As seen here, I used almost a full package tagging the memorable metaphors, captivating dialogue, and insightful reflections in Geographies of the Heart.

One example came as Sarah’s grandmother lay dying. Sarah observed, “My grandmother was a keeper of secrets. During her last few days, semi-coherent, she told them all, let loose the accumulated small and large betrayals in whispers, the secrets hissing out of her like a tire losing air. She lay in her bed muttering, and we collected the secrets like we collect shells on the beach.”

Hovering throughout the book is the tempestuous relationship between Sarah and Glennie. Sarah realizes “I don’t like her very much, even though I love her, and I wonder what size I’ve made her feel over the years, how much a person like me can wear another down, or send a scar straight into the marrow to stay. I wonder how much she likes me.

We’re from the same place, but we have different geographies of the heart.”

Read Geographies of the Heart to inhabit a landscape of characters you’ll hold your breath worrying over and to encounter a family and place so real you’ll expect to lift your head from the page and see them sitting across from you.

Summing it Up: Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s Geographies of the Heart is a compelling, complex novel about an ordinary family told in three voices that will capture your heart. It’s one of the best novels I’ve read in years.

Let’s also give a shout-out to the gorgeous cover. It’s an image of a cluster of red blood cells which is appropriate for a novel about the ties of blood and the heart.

Note: Geographies of the Heart is available on digital platforms (Kobo and Kindle) for $4.99.

Rating: 5 Stars

Categories: Fiction, Five Stars, Gourmet, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Book Club

Publication Date: January 18, 2022

Author Website: https://caitlinhamiltonsummie.com/

Read an Excerpt: https://lithub.com/category/excerpts/

Discussion Questions: https://caitlinhamiltonsummie.files.wordpress.com/2021/09/discussion-questions-for-geographies-of-the-heart.pdf

Interview with the Author: https://deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com/2022/01/q-with-caitlin-hamilton-summie.html?fbclid=IwAR2croguLhQIJsvkJvRmhXD1N1O55jzAF4zKTbadkTDyAmYB82Er_egU62Q

What Others are Saying:

Foreword Reviews:  https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/geographies-of-the-heart/

Publishers Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-953236-39-5

Geographies of the Heart is a landmark achievement in the remarkable writing career of Caitlin Hamilton Summie. This debut novel captivates, pulsing with a deep, cinematic vibrancy. Geographies of the Heart is filled with characters that beguile, enchant and bond with the reader in a brilliant, immersive literary experience.” – The Culture Buzz

“An accomplished, confident debut, with complex characters you’ll be rooting for.”—J. Ryan Stradal, bestselling author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest and The Lager Queen of Minnesota

Geographies of the Heart is both riveting and moving, its characters rendered with painstaking and loving attention. I got to know them very well, and the author made me care about them. Caitlin Hamilton Summie is not afraid to go deep, to explore the fears and emotions most of us spend so much time trying to conceal. I loved this novel. I only wish there were more like it.”—Steve Yarbrough, author of The Unmade World

“Years of secrets, resentments, and words left unspoken force a family to examine the fragile complexities of the heart. A tender yet powerful journey, where bitterness gives way to the determination it takes to stitch lives back together.”—Beth HoffmanNew York Times bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

“Caitlin Hamilton Summie writes like waves cross large oceans. Words, sentences, chapters and stories build with a complexity of wind, current, and underground tectonic force until they crash toward their resolution onshore.  Her debut novel, Geographies of the Heart, is a new force of nature that readers of Summie’s work will love. Intense, searching, intimate in the moment and sweeping in its range, this novel is an oceans-wide meditation on the inseparability of family, and the redemption of loss.”—Andrew Krivak, author of The Bear

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