Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Stay Gone Days by Steve Yarbrough

That Steve Yarbrough isn’t one of our most well-known American authors is a conundrum. He’s championed and praised by great writers including Ron Rash and Julia Glass, yet many readers don’t know him. His writing celebrates ordinary lives and quietly makes them feel extraordinary and perhaps it’s that subdued style that keeps him below the radar. In his latest novel, Stay Gone Days, he’s captured the lives of two estranged sisters living on separate continents. If you loved the characters, setting, and language of Ann Patchett’s Dutch House, Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton, or Anne Tyler’s many novels, you’ll find Stay Gone Days equally compelling with its intimate portraits of sisters Ella and Caroline Cole. 

After a tragic accident in the small Mississippi town where they grew up, teenagers Ella and Caroline become separated. They were always different with elder Ella making perfect grades and doing what she was told in their small, all-white private school, one they attended despite being dirt poor. Caroline was more of a rebel often skipping school. “Today, Caroline determines, will be a Stay Gone Day. She’ll leave school on the sly and stay gone until tomorrow.” Later, the sisters head in different directions with Ella getting a voice scholarship to the Berklee College of Music then dropping out and becoming a waitress and Caroline traveling west and eventually having to escape from a violent ex-boyfriend. Both of them carry deep emotional wounds, yet they carry on.

Ella meets and marries dependable Martin, also a Berklee dropout, who becomes a record producer. He has money and an old, comfortable home where they raise two daughters and Ella seems to find peace although her escalating intake of alcohol might say otherwise. Martin tries to get her to visit her hometown, but something always interferes. Still, Ella continuously searches for her sister, but it appears that Caroline Cole has disappeared. 

Caroline hasn’t disappeared though and she knows exactly where Ella is. Caroline has settled in Warsaw where she enjoys teaching English while working on her writing. She’s built a decent life in Poland. Then, one day, Ella walks into a bookstore and sees a novel called Stay Gone Days written by Karo Kohl. The book, a chronicle of estranged sisters, opens the door to a possible reunion. 

In Yarbrough’s skilled hands, we inhabit Ella’s and Caroline’s lives as we observe the quotidian details evolve. We find ourselves cheering for them to reconcile as Yarbrough has made us know them well enough that we’re certain of their need for each other. Steve Yarbrough makes it matter to us. He makes us feel a deep longing for them to be together. He makes us care and isn’t that what fine novelists do? 

Summing it Up: Read Stay Gone Days to fall into an authentic rendering of a family dynamic that is both personal and universal. Read it to escape into expertly depicted settings in rural Mississippi, Cape Cod, the Boston suburbs, Northern California, Rome, and Warsaw. Savor it for the intimate stories of two sisters who will capture your heart.

Rating: 5 Stars

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

Publication Date: April 19, 2022

Author Website: https://www.steveyarbrough.net

An Interview with the Author: https://southernreviewofbooks.com/2022/04/19/stay-gone-days-steve-yarbrough-interview/

What Others Are Saying: 

Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/9781632461353

Masterful and moving, Stay Gone Days is the story of the diverging yet ultimately intertwined destinies of two sisters, told on a scale both intimate and sweeping. I followed them across continents and decades, through loves and losses, always on the edge of my seat. I finished with tears in my eyes and wonder in my heart.” — Julia Glass

“There is so much to praise about this novel: the vivid, precise language, the expansiveness of the settings, how deeply we come to care about Caroline and Ella. But it all leads to this: we enter many books, but only a few enter us, then lodge in our consciousness as deeply as lived memories. Stay Gone Days is one of these. Steve Yarbrough is one of our country’s finest living novelists.” —Ron Rash

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