Author: Thérèse Soukar Chehade
Publication Year: 2010
Source: E-review copy from NetGalley
From the cover:
As a blizzard blankets the northeast United States, burying residents and shutting down airports, the Farrah family eagerly awaits the arrival of Eva, a cousin visiting from Lebanon after a long separation from the family. Over the course of several days, while Eva is stranded in New York City, Chehade’s nuanced story unfolds in the reminiscences and anxieties of each family member.
Emilie, the matriarch of this Lebanese American family, lives in a world of voluntary silence. Barely able to read and write in English and refusing to speak for the last several years, she immerses herself in her garden and leaves elaborately cooked meals anonymously for her solitary neighbor. Emilie’s oldest daughter Josephine, middle aged and still living with her mother and married brother, struggles to regain the independence and confidence she had as a young girl in Lebanon. Young Marie, stifled by her conservative family, is determined to study at Berkeley and to leave behind her immigrant identity. All three are drawn to their mysterious neighbor, nicknamed Loom, whose loneliness and isolation mirror their own and kindle within each woman a desire to make a connection. When Emilie takes off during the blizzard in the direction of Loom’s house and the rest of the family follows in her pursuit, their act is both an escape and a reaching out. Beautifully written and teeming with vivid portraits, Chehade’s novel is both heartfelt and wise.
I had really high hopes for this novel, and it just didn’t deliver.
Right from the beginning of Loom, the story just dragged. The perspective kept changing between characters, and it took me quite a while to get them straight. I kept having to flip back and forth between pages, because I wasn’t sure who was who – in part because of the how the characters kept referring to each other, and in part because of the constantly-changing point of view. Once I figured out who was speaking and what was going on in a scene, it would shift to someone else’s narration and a different scene entirely.
About halfway through the novel, I actually wanted to give up. It just wasn’t going anywhere. I was starting to pick up hints about the neighbour (who the family calls “Loom” because they don’t know his name), but still wasn’t sure what his purpose was. At all. He was kind of a figure that the grandmother in the house kept bringing food to, and who a bunch of the characters watched out the window, but there’s only so far that you can stretch that characterization to make a story interesting, and I felt like Chehade went way beyond that.
By the time I trudged to the end of the book, it actually started to pick up a little. Not a lot, mind you, but enough that the last 50-75 pages or so were actually somewhat entertaining. If the whole book had been like that, I might actually have enjoyed it enough to have valued the experience. But, as it stands, Loom wasn’t that interesting, and didn’t really have any redeeming features for me that were enough to make up for a lack of plot.
Which is sad, because I really wanted to like this book.