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Heartwood: A Novel [Mass Market Paperback]

Belva Plain
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

May 29 2012

Few authors have understood the tender intricacies of relationships better than the incomparable Belva Plain. In Heartwood, her final novel, she comes full circle with the themes she took up in her very first work, Evergreen, bringing us an unforgettable story of family and friendship, love and marriage, the challenges of life and the true secret of happiness.
 
Though Iris Stern considers herself a modern woman, with a successful career and a happy marriage, she still holds steadfast to her old-fashioned sensibilities. However, she often finds those sensibilities challenged by her children and the choices they have made. For Iris’s daughter, Laura, a fresh start in New York City may be the last chance to save her troubled marriage, but as Laura copes with an impending separation and its effect on Iris’s young granddaughter, Iris herself must come to grips with a long-held family secret. An emotional parting of another kind looms most prominently on Iris’s horizon—as neither her beloved husband nor her marriage is immune to the ravages of time. But like the inmost rings of a tree that abide through the generations, Iris will be as strong as heartwood.


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Review

“Vintage Plain, as she again affectingly celebrates a family’s resilience and love.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch
 
“A fitting last tribute to a beloved writer who touched so many readers. Plain will be dearly missed, but her books will allow her memory to live on forever.”—Ventura County Star

About the Author

Belva Plain captured readers' hearts with her first novel, Evergreen, which Delacorte published more than 30 years ago. It topped the New York Times best-seller list for 41 weeks and aired as an NBC-TV miniseries. In total, more than 20 of her books have been New York Times best sellers.
 
Before becoming a novelist,  Belva Plain wrote short stories for many major magazines, but taking care of a husband and three children did not give her the time to concentrate on the novel she had always wanted to write. When she looked back and said she didn't have the time, she felt as though she had been making excuses. In retrospect, she said, "I didn't make the time." But, she reminded us, during the era that she was raising her family, women were supposed to concentrate only on their children. Today 30 million copies of her books are in print.
 
A Barnard College graduate who majored in history,  Belva Plain enjoyed a wonderful marriage of more than 40 years to Irving Plain, an ophthalmologist. Widowed for more than 25 years, Ms. Plain continued to reside in New Jersey, where she and her husband had raised their family and which was still home to her nearby children and grandchildren until her death in October 2010.

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Conclusion I was needing March 21 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
I remember reading Evergreen years ago, and it felt unfinished to me. I picked it up again recently and had the same feeling, I wanted to know more. I was interested in the story of Anna, not the Werners, so I didn't bother reading the rest of the Werner Family saga. I must say Heartwood was the ending I had been looking for, and I'm so glad Belva Plain gave this to us. It's rather poetic that her last book completed her first book. It might not be the sweeping saga of Evergreen, but it's not meant to be. It does answer the biggest question, however: Will Iris ever know how much her parents loved her? In a word, yes.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  84 reviews
47 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars profound look at the Stern family Feb. 9 2011
By Harriet Klausner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Family matriarch Iris Stern feels she has had a happy marriage and a great late career as a college professor. When her husband Theo suffers a massive heart attack, Iris knows she loves her spouse and her adult children, but the needs of her kids are not hers and their decisions are definitely not hers.

In California Robby McAllister loses his college teaching job due to cutbacks. He and his wife Laura, Iris' daughter returns to New York to be near her family. As he fails to land a position, she thrives with a fixer upper Victorian and a catering business. An upset Robby flees to his family home and store in Ohio, but Laura remains in New York with their daughter and meets Nick. Iris has her own issues with an ethical question of what is right in accordance with her deep Jewish faith vs. what Theo desires as well as how to handle a secret he concealed from her.

The late Belva Plain takes her readers back to where it all began with Evergreen as she provides a profound look at the Stern family. The cast is strong, but remains true to their personalities yet the character driven story line can stand alone. Ms. Plain, who died in October, pays homage to herself with a depth few authors ever achieve.

Harriet Klausner
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Belva Plain's moving final novel Feb. 16 2011
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Belva Plain's final novel, HEARTWOOD, is a moving story layered in psychological reflection, which has more depth than any simple drama or ordinary work of fiction. This is a book that delves deeply into the psychology of older parents and their adult children, presenting a striking image of one mother's deep-seated need for perfection and impulse to manage her family long past the time when she should stop. This seems a common psychology for many mothers, who support it using the rationale that "it's only because I want them to be happy and successful." We've all known mothers who approach their grown families in this way, and Iris Stern is certainly one who is susceptible to this kind of thinking. She ultimately faces coming to terms with the unpredictability of life's choices and the eventuality of having to accept who her loved ones really are.

HEARTWOOD begins with a decades-long account of the lives of Iris and Theo Stern and their family. They are a Jewish American couple who present a classic picture of the American Dream --- an aging, affluent pair who will soon enter their golden years, having enjoyed separate career paths and feeling fulfilled in having raised their four children well. Iris is a successful college professor, while Theo runs a private practice as a physician. Everyone looks up to them, and together they make ideal parents. They are educated and supportive, enjoy their children's company, and both consistently put a great degree of effort into each and every member of their family.

The Sterns' life story details the many fine and fading years of their devoted marriage and presents the unique challenges that sometimes come with enjoying success. While Iris and Theo have had their problems, these experiences have made them grateful and more able to appreciate one another. This is not to imply that they haven't had concerns about their children over the years. Their sons have cost them many hours of sleep and years of worry, but their daughter has been "the rock," the one who they've all depended on. Laura is the golden child, a young woman with good judgment and a steady heart. She is rational, motivated, happy and loyal to the core. So when she chooses to marry her boyfriend right after high school, neither Iris nor Theo questions it or loses any sleep.

Jumping forward to the present, Laura and Robby are struggling thirty-somethings, and Robby has had ongoing career issues. He's an aspiring archaeologist who's attempting to finish his doctorate degree while working in various jobs. Laura was initially confident that he'd eventually succeed, but now has her doubts and notices a diminishment in the potency of their love. Robby seems to lack both motivation and judgment, and it's becoming disturbing to Laura to recognize that he uses psychological obstacles to create real ones for them all. He works in a competitive and sometimes demoralizing academic atmosphere at a major university, but eventually shows poor judgment with his students, landing the final death blow to his already shaky career.

Recognizing in her husband a tendency toward laziness and flakiness, Laura reacts to these stresses by becoming determined to support her family alone, if need be. She moves them from California to New York City, buys a home and ventures into the catering business, and her family in Manhattan loans her the money that enables the takeoff of her lifelong dream. In no time, she's successful and enjoying a very nice living, but while she and her daughter Katie love the city and appreciate her burgeoning new success, her husband never does and repeatedly chooses separation --- but never divorce. Robby flees to his hometown in Ohio while Laura is left alone in New York for long stretches, devoting her own efforts entirely to catering and pursuing publicity for her growing business.

In pursuing her own career, Laura faces a new obstacle when she meets an attractive and very alluring young photographer who quickly captures her heart. She was raised traditionally and so feels unable to walk out on Robby, or equally to face a lifetime devoid of love. Torn between duty and entitlement, Laura is stuck, yet she knows that her family would never approve of her leaving Robby and would become even more condemning if they discovered she had engaged in an affair.

HEARTWOOD marks the end of Belva Plain's remarkable career as a successful writer with more than 20 novels that have been New York Times bestsellers. This fine author passed away in October 2010, and her final drama is a testament to her extraordinary talent and an experience readers of fiction and romance should heartily enjoy.

--- Reviewed by Melanie Smith
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars BELVA PLAIN WAS A "GIANT" IN HER GENRE July 28 2011
By magstat - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The late, great Belva Plain passed away in October, 2010 at the age of 95. I initially discovered her in the late 1970's with her first novel, EVERGREEN, an historical family saga that immediately drew its readers into the story line and the unforgettable characters. This first Belva Plain novel was such a strong, well-written saga, in fact, that none who had loved it, as I did, would want to miss the opportunity to read Ms. Plain's last novel, HEARTWOOD, which brings the story of the Stern family full-circle.
Although I have read every novel that Belva Plain has ever written, none of them--including HEARTWOOD--has ever reached the heights that she achieved with EVERGREEN. HEARTWOOD is a much shorter book than EVERGREEN and, thus, cannot include the depth of detail found in that first immortal novel. Very few generational sagas deserve to stand alongside EVERGREEN. Exceptions might be THE THORNBIRDS (an Australian saga), A WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE (a British saga), MILLIONAIRE'S ROW (an Irish saga), and a very limited number of other books of that genre.
HEARTWOOD, to be fair, must be judged with an eye to the author's circumstances. Her career as a novelist began when Belva Plain was about 60 years old--late in comparison to most authors. She consistently provided her loyal readers with an engrossing novel every year or two thereafter--each of them very enjoyable. HEARTWOOD, released about four months after her death, may be somewhat less "layered" than her earlier works but, then again, it is only fair to keep in mind that she was in her nineties at the time of its writing and, she was probably more concerned in completing the circle of the Stern family before her death. Let's give her a break, readers! She produced a good and readable novel at her advanced age and, although it cannot compare to its famous predecessor, EVERGREEN, it is still engrossing, still worth reading, and is just one more example of the moxie and determination of it wonderful author, Belva Plain. Long may she live in the hearts of her many loyal readers.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Belva tugs at your heart. Feb. 20 2011
By Debbie B - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I will miss future stories from Belva Plain. This last story lets the readers share family memories common to all of us. Belva was a master at painting a background with words and letting her charcters fill in the details. I loved all her books. I am grateful that she shared her talent with us. The characters in this story show us that life is not always what we think it should be.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as I had hoped March 5 2011
By Maryland reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It's hard to be critical of Belva Plain's last book, especially since I greatly enjoyed some of her other novels, but Heartwood isn't in the same league as her best work -- and it's especially not in the same league as Evergreen.

Although I enjoyed learning about the futures of some of the characters introduced in Evergreen, this book lacked Evergreen's depth and complexity. As another reviewer pointed out, Heartwood is a quick read. Too quick, in my opinion. Evergreen was a masterpiece. Heartwood is, well, kind of routine.
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