Heartwood: A Novel Mass Market Paperback – May 29 2012
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“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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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.
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
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.
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.