Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Review: Sleeping in Eden

By Jami Deise

It is said that the difference between fiction and reality is that fiction is supposed to make sense. Meaning that while real life is filled with bizarre coincidences, good and bad luck, and being in the right place at the wrong time or vice versa, fiction can’t utilize any of that. Fiction is supposed to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, with each plot point a piece that can only fit in a specific place, nowhere else.

Yet occasionally, a book comes along that hinges upon the casual coincidence, on being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and instead of falling apart like wet tissue paper, those coincidences serve to emphasize how life – and death – can hinge on one impulsive decision. Nicole Baart’s Sleeping in Eden, a literary thriller, is such a story.

When Dr. Lucas Hudson, a general practitioner in rural Iowa, subs for the local coroner on an open-and-shut suicide case, the last thing he expects to find are the bones of a young woman buried in the barn where Jim Sparks hung himself from the rafters. Immediately, Lucas assumes the bones belong to Sparks’ daughter Angela, missing for eight years. Lucas’ wife Jenna, a social worker who had considered Angela like a daughter, was broken-hearted by the girl’s disappearance, and it caused the first of several cracks in their marriage. Lucas stumbles upon Jim’s suicide note, with contains a girl’s ring. Thinking the ring is Angela’s, he steals it, intending to give it to Jenna later to help her achieve some kind of closure. Instead, Angela herself shows up – alive and kicking and desperate to prove her father had nothing to do with the dead girl buried in his barn.

Years before, teenage Meg Painter fell in love with Dylan Reid… but when he seemed to want only friendship from her, she turned to her neighbor, the two-years-older Jess Langbroek. But Meg could never get Dylan out of her system, even though she dated Jess for years.

How does Meg’s story intersect Lucas’? Who is the girl in the barn, and did Jim kill her? Through careful writing and casual clues, Baart hints at decisions that will come to haunt her characters – but the way the story plays out is completely different than what her deliberate character work implies. Just as in life, the things we are most afraid will happen do not happen – it’s the things we never see coming that turn out to be the death of us.

"Beware of sleeping in Eden," warns a character at the end of the book. "People who sleep in Eden are those who blithely enjoy the fruits of a trouble-free life, never assuming that there’s a serpent in the grass plotting to take it all away." It’s good advice for readers as well as characters.

In Sleeping in Eden, Baart has created a heartbreaking, character-driven story that hooks readers from the very first page and does not let go even when the book ends. While its epilogue ends on a hopeful note, the image also serves to remind how tenuous the grasp on happiness really is.

Thanks to AuthorsOnTheWeb for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Nicole Baart:

1 comment:

fredamans said...

Sounds like a wonderful book. I have lately really come to appreciate literary fiction.
Fab review!