Characters, Writing Style Make Leimbach's New Book Memorable:
Follow-Up to Dying Young Skillfully Deals with Family Relationships
Sun Dial Street
by Marti Leimbach
"Your family is etched into you like tattoo, something that can make you ashamed or proud. But it is there anyway, occupying a space beneath the skin, at once both a decoration and a scar."
Marti Leimbach's new novel, Sun Dial Street, explores the depth and permanence of this filial "tattoo" and weaves it into the fabric of her witty and sensitive novel with literary innovation. After penning Dying Young, which won her critical acclaim, Leimbach creates an equally bittersweet story that sparks the reader's imagination with its details and elicits a sense of identification with its down-to-earth depiction of events.
Sam Haskell, an adolescent who stays behind in Rhode Island when his mother and sister move to L.A., narrates the story. The novel unfolds when, some years later, Sam visits them for the first time since their departure from Rhode Island. To him, his manic depressive mother--who likes to call herself "Jewel"--and his rebellious younger sister, Ginny, live in a turbulent household on Sun Dial Street. Their lives are filled with chaos and animosity.
Sam grapples with the idea of both his "baby " sister, who is almost twenty years old, having a full-fledged love affair, as well as his neurotic mother taking on lover, Van. All this dismay follows his father's untimely death and the departure of his mother and sister from their decrepit house--his melancholic behavior resonates with allusions to Hamlet.
Sam realizes the importance of the "tattoo," the bond that ties the family together; but as he enters the alien realm of his mother and sister's lives, he slowly understands the concept of space. His sister sometimes hates his fraternal interference and his mother ignores his advice. Gradually, each character learns through the trails and tribulations which Leimbach brings home to us so sensitively, that familial relationships precede all others and that the one reliable source of support is the family.
Woven into the already intense web of relationship is the presence of another family, which both complements and counteracts the actions of Sam's family. Celia, the head of this family, is an older woman who meets Sam on a plane and uses him to make Lucy's husband jealous.
Celia thinks that Lucy's marriage to the unworthy and violent Mikey is a farce. She tries in vain to break up their marriage and uses Sam as the scapegoat. Leimbach strategically juxtaposes the strength of Lucy's marriage against strength of bonds between the members of the Haskell family. Lucy and Mikey, along with their four children share a bond that Sam relates to, despite his growing entanglement with Lucy. Furthermore, Eli, Ginny's boyfriend who owns a nightclub, adds to the chaos and dishevelment of this network. Everyone is knit together closely.
Everything from adultery to death, love to resentment, secrecy to deceit is somehow ratified in this pungent novel about the strength and the burden of relationships. Leimbach punctuates, the gravity of the content of her novel with warmth and amusement, using her literary prowess to impress the reader without being depressing.
Leimbach's use of minutiae, such as descriptions of people to acquaint the reader with their personalities, is an effective literary device. Ginny's character is filled with details that reek of adolescence. She is savvy, outgoing , pessimistic and in love. One wonders if Leimbach's years at Harvard have not permeated her creation of this character: Ginny is the ultimate Harvard Square yuppie, dressed either in a motorcycle jacket or her bohemian attire.
For anyone who frequents Harvard Square, Ginny embodies your image of the place. But even for people who haven't,. Ginny stricks that universal chord in everyone: she is young, stubborn and impressionable but independent. She reminds us of our own youth, or what our younger sisters are like. In short, she is instantly identifiable. Leimbach uses Ginny tactfully to tie together the innumerable loose strands that hang from the cloth that comprises this narrative: Ginny draws together all these loose ends and is the catalyst for the consolidation of this story. Leimbach flavors her narrative with an assortment of literary devices, from sarcasm to poignance, from intensity to romantic love from irony to rhetoric and from imagery to chimera.
All in all, Leimbach's second novel, Sun Dial Street, is an affecting, amusing and unpredictable blend of characters and events that ring true in the minds of readers when they enter the realm of the chaotic Haskell family. This book marks an achievement for this young author, and if this is just the chrysalis, you had better be prepared for some fascinating future attempts.