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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Leaves by Michael Baron

Leaves by Michael Baron
Publisher: The Story Plant
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (330 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

Welcome to Oldham, CT, a small town rich in Colonial heritage while being utterly contemporary. Situated along the Connecticut River Valley, Oldham bursts with color every fall, as the leaves on its trees evolve into an unmatched palette of scarlet, orange, purple, yellow, and bronze. For more than three decades, the Gold family has been a central part of Oldham in the fall, its Sugar Maple Inn a destination for “leaf-peepers” from all over the country, and its annual Halloween party a stirring way to punctuate the town’s most active month.

But this year, more than just the leaves are changing. With the death of their parents, the Gold siblings, Maria, Maxwell, Deborah, Corrina, and Tyler, have decided to sell the Sugar Maple Inn, and this year’s Halloween party will be the last. As October begins, the Golds contend with the finality that faces them, and the implications it has for a family that has always been so close. For some, it means embracing new challenges and new love. For others, it means taking on unimagined roles. And for others, it means considering the inconceivable. Complicating it all is a series of “hauntings” that touch each of the Gold siblings, a series of benign interventions that will remain a mystery until October draws to a close.

“…they’d exchanged the sense of intimacy they always had between them for the assumption of intimacy.” This profound remark is a theme that resonates throughout the story.

Even though this is a remark made about one couple’s relationship, it is evident in many of the ‘so-human’ characters’ relationships. The change from one type of intimacy to the other happens so subtly that it is hardly noticeable until suddenly despair and discontent set in. The reader sees the people, once so in tune with each other, no longer share meaningful conversations. They let awareness of each others’ needs slip away. They stop feeling contented pleasure in doing things together or just ‘being’ together. They no longer feel that special jolt of joy in just seeing each other across the room and their lovemaking loses the all-consuming sharing that engages body, mind, and spirit and transports them as one to ecstasy. How they cope and overcome or succumb keeps one’s rapt attention.

While the Gold siblings are still grieving the death of their parents, life goes on and must be dealt with. The Sugar Maple Inn that seems a symbol of their lives with their parents is sold and a last hurrah—the traditional Halloween party—is to be organized and the community invited. The reader is pulled into the fray and sees personality traits emerge that intrigue.

Tyler, the youngest of the Gold siblings, not only grieves the loss of his parents; he also is adrift after Patrice, his love for the last five years, steps away from their relationship; added to that his photography business is alarmingly slow. His less than enthusiastic interest in being in charge of the decorations for the Halloween party is understandable. Even his relationship with the siblings he has been closest to through the years seems to be on shaky ground. The ups and downs of his coping process range from heart-breaking to humorous. Just when he needs it most a memory comes—in a most unusual way. He remembers his special relationship with his sister Deborah. It seems to bring peace and helps him get his act together.

Deborah, the head chef at the Inn, has lost her anchor. How does she move on? The near panic she feels at times and the “foodie” (so much like her) that she meets keeps her life on a rollercoaster through much of the story. Of course, dealing with Corrina, her bossy sister who feels compelled to order everybody around, often without the desired results, is one of the most complicated of the siblings. Her hurts that she keeps to herself are overwhelming. With a husband who begrudges her his time and a stepson that needs more help than she can or knows how to give, she is stressed to the max much of the time with no relief to come. Maybe in another book Mr. Baron will help her find a happy-ever-after.

Maria, though suffering from empty-nest syndrome, brings music and hope to the story. Her husband has lost touch with her as a person, but she perseveres and bridges some gaps while still reaching for her own dreams and connecting with their daughter Olivia in a special way. The music she brings to mind brings back great memories for this reader. Lots of good things ahead it seems.

Maxwell, the oldest sibling, and his wife Annie, a discontented soul that longs for more in life than to be Joey’s mom and Maxwell’s wife, weave a discordant note through the story that keeps the reader a little on edge. Maxwell’s political life absorbs his time. He seems not to see the seriousness of Annie’s need. He just takes care of little two-year-old, hyper Joey when she says she has to be away for awhile and makes plans for his future. His blindness to Annie’s need does not bode well for their future.

Michael Baron takes these complex characters, places them in a quiet little town in Connecticut among people they have known and have known them all their lives; sprinkles in a few newcomers; adds October the most colorful, beautiful month of their year; and invites the reader in for a enthralling vicarious experience. The special memory that each sibling has that helps them repair the frayed relationships with each other is a touch of supernatural that gives a haunting quality the story. The precious memories the reader gets to vicariously share with each of the Gold siblings and the “joint hallucination” they all share is heart-warming.

The charm of Michael Baron’s writing brings a special polish to a poignant story, making it sparkle and enchant like October leaves in New England.