Sunday, May 13, 2012

Distant Thunder, by Ann Gaylia O'Barr (OakTara)

A poignant story; intelligently written and thought provoking.

In Distant Thunder, Ms. O'Barr has melded a personal journey of searching and restoration with a candid, point-blank look at American culture and faith.  Okay, that's been done before.  A lot.  But what makes this book unique is the author's perspective on America through the eyes of Americans who have spent a considerable portion of their adult lives outside of America.  Herself a retired foreign service officer, Ms. O'Barr is eminently qualified to relate this tale through the lens of her characters' broadened experiences and observations.

But the story is much more than an examination of a nation.  No, there's a very personal rendering of a woman's search for meaning in the culture that has victimized her.  The woman?  Brooke Rohmer, who is a middle-aged divorcee facing an empty nest as her son prepares to enlist in the US Army.  Stuck in a dead-end job and anticipating the prospect of a personal life as mundane as her work life, Brooke books passage on a train from Georgia to Seattle to visit her aunt.  Just to get away.  And to think.

Neal Hudson, a foreign service consular officer, has just lost his wife and his best friend in separate automobile accidents in Beirut.  Reeling from shock of the double loss, and guilt-ridden at the way he and his wife parted that fateful day, he, too, opts for a train ride to his island retreat on Puget Sound's San Juan Island.  His greatest shock, though, is when he finally brings himself to read her death certificate.

Needless to tell you, Brooke and Neal encounter one another. In the company of two other State Department employees, Ethan and Kaitlin Coverwood, who also happen to be on the train, Neal and Brooke develop a faltering relationship, each afraid of letting the other in too far, understand each other too much, empathize with each other too deeply.  The foursome's discussions and blossoming friendship mirror the train's journey through the heartland of America, across the northern climes, and finally into the Pacific Northwest.

You'll learn a great deal about their perspectives--even what the Foreign Service is like--through their conversations that range from the personal to the professional--but always the profound.

Kudos to Ms. O'Barr for artfully interweaving her theme with her story, never allowing the former to obscure the latter, but delivering the pathos of each in a subtle and honest way.  Precise prose, a piquing underlying wit, and a solid grasp of her topic, the author is a pleasure to read.

Highly recommended for the thoughtul reader.


Janet Chester Bly said...

Enjoyed reading this thoughtful review.
Janet Chester Bly

Bruce Judisch said...

Thanks for commenting, Janet. Enjoyable reading.

Cheers! Bruce