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Source: Cedar Forge Press
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Robbie reached across and touched my arm. When he didn’t draw his hand back, I told him about my frights. “Maybe,” he said, “we all practice our dying, in different ways, at different times, but there’s no way to avoid the thought. Write it if you can.”

(from The Belle of Two Arbors)

The Belle of Two Arbors is a sweeping historical novel that takes readers on a journey between Glen Arbor and Ann Arbor, Michigan, and sometimes beyond, from 1913 to 1978. The book is presented as a memoir of the fictional poet Martha “Belle” Peebles, whose entire collection of poems, or “songs,” are found in a trunk, along with the memoir, after her death. The novel chronicles Belle’s life, from her mother’s tragic death when she was 14 until the end of her life and beyond.

Belle’s mother was a fan of Emily Dickinson and encouraged Belle to write. Although devoted to her younger brother, Pip, and her Papa, Belle decides to leave Glen Arbor to attend college in Ann Arbor, where her lifelong friendship with Robert Frost begins. Her friendships with Robbie, Ted Roethke, and Wystan Auden enrich her life and inspire her work, and they share their poems and letters over the span of many years. Dimond chronicles Belle’s work, her role as a caregiver, her complicated love life, her desire to preserve the natural habitat in Glen Arbor and expand the family’s stove works, her battle with sexism in academia, and more.

The Belle of Two Arbors is an ambitious novel that was just a bit too long for me at nearly 700 pages. Dimond’s prose is great, and Grimes’ poems (Belle’s poems for the purpose of the novel) are well done, but it felt like there were a lot of scenes and details that, though well written, just did not further the plot.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the novel overall because of Belle. What a fantastic heroine! She was brave, strong-willed, ahead of her time, a pillar of strength among her friends and family, a source of encouragement and love. She had dreams and figured out ways to achieve them. She managed the ups and downs of love without being overly romantic or dramatic. Her interactions with historical figures were fascinating. If it weren’t for the extraneous details that hindered the flow in certain places, I would have loved this novel, but even so, I think it is worth giving a try for Belle alone.

Check out The Belle of Two Arbors on Goodreads and Amazon, and click the banner above for more details about the book and to follow the blog tour.

Disclosure: I received The Belle of Two Arbors from Cedar Forge Press for review.

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