The book opens with the quote, “A man is a god in ruins.” The story then proceeds to illustrate Teddy Todd’s life from his childhood to his death. It is a poignant tale about an easy-going, non-confrontational man who always seems to want to do the right thing. The reader witnesses his boyhood and his manhood as he marries Nancy Shawcross, fights in World War II, raises a child, Viola, who then also bears two children, a son and a daughter, Sunny and Bertie, who then also go on to raise their own families in life’s continuing story. It is a multi-generational, family saga which shows the effect that different memories of the same event, and actions surrounding it, can have on each of the characters, as they grow, and how those memories with each of their interpretations may cause them to behave in a certain way, even when the memory of the event and the actual event may be completely different than their perception of it. Memories and also secrets, affected the way all of the characters behaved and, as the book progresses, we get to know the entire family, past, present and future. As many of their thoughts are revealed, it becomes obvious that each person sees the world from their own perspective. The story is about how life’s moments affect succeeding generations, even when those generations are not directly involved. There is an echo effect on those generations, in much the same way that the “little gray hare” amulet touched its successive owners.
The story is about nurturing and its opposite, neglect, which shape all concerned. It is about tolerance and intolerance. It is about the circle of life which begins with Teddy, his parents and his siblings; it then proceeds to his future family, his wife Nancy and his only child; and then it continues with his grandchildren and great grandchildren who remain to carry on the mantle of the family. Life goes on, people are born and then they die, and like a book that is popular and then fades into history, so do the people and their lives. What remains of them after they are dead? Is there a legacy? We live, we influence the lives of others, negatively and positively, then we die, they die, and ad infinitum. Does it matter? The readers will watch as the characters shape shift and morph into their ultimate state of being, stirring those around them.
Teddy is a man who suffers the agonies of life and death with as much grace as he can muster. When he was a pilot during the war, he was respected by those under his command. Most always agreeable, the atmosphere around him was often calm and serene. His very presence encourages peaceful coexistence. He knows his own mind. Although his wife, Nancy, was very compatible with him, their relationship was not one of extreme passion, rather, like Teddy, it was calm and steady until tragedy struck. The one volatile part of Teddy’s life, was his relationship with his daughter Viola. She witnessed something early in life which remained in her memory, and she never truly realized how she felt about her father until it was pretty much too late. Although she was devoted to him in terms of his care, she was most often resentful of him and his place in her life. Actually, Viola was a rebel, or rather, she was rebellious. So was her son. Her daughter was the constant, the one to be relied upon by others.
There are many surprises in the story, and it reads more like a Dickensian novel, with fully developed characters whose lives twist and turn rather than progress in a single, straight line. It is a story that the author wishes to be viewed as a companion piece to the novel “Life after Life”, which was largely about Ursula Todd, Teddy’s sister. The timeline jumps around as Teddy relives his past life for us and also exists in his present and ongoing one, as well. It, like my review, is therefore a little repetitious. Because I found the back and forth in the timeline confusing, while listening to the audio, I had a difficult time getting into the book and remembering all of the facts that I wanted to hold onto, so I recommend this book in a print version. There are many characters and they are covered in the past and present as well, which sometimes requires a look back as a refresher, and in an audio, it is very inconvenient to do that.
Teddy is a really likeable character as is his wife, Nancy. Their child, however, Viola, who becomes a successful author, using her own life experiences to write her novels, leaves a lot to be desired. Her son develops into an interesting modern day character, searching for true meaning in life. Yet, it is actually death, their own or the death of someone near and dear, that brings many to discover their true meaning in life. The story is about life cycle events and consequences, about death, when it comes by surprise, when it approaches with dignity and when it is slow and withering. All of the characters are attached to this earth by their secrets, memories, and idiosyncrasies. They are all searching for a kind of freedom throughout their lives, the freedom from those thoughts that tether them to their own painful or joyous experiences, preventing them from growing and moving on.
This is a story about how our version of life’s events alters how we, then live life. Our analysis has the power not only to ruin us, but to ruin others. How others treated us, affects how we, in turn, treat others. Then that, in turn, has an effect on them and their future generations. Yes, life’s experiences have the power to ruin us, but also the power to free us. We all deteriorate physically; we weaken, shrivel and die, but that is only our physical being. The story is also about how our spirits can soar like the skylark‘s, with our hearts, minds and emotions flying free.