Delaney's People: A Novel in Small Stories by Beth Duke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
On one of my father's hospital stays, a cousin visited him while I was also in his room. I'd known her all my life, but I'd never had a conversation with her beyond the basic small talk. It wasn't long before my father and his cousin began to go down memory lane talking about what they remembered of grandparents and great-grandparents and childhood escapades. I hadn't known any of this before, and I sat there totally captivated, not wanting them to stop even when visiting hours were over. Reading Delaney's People brought that experience back to me. I believe there is a wealth of information handed down from generation to generation in families that is invaluable if only people realized it and appointed someone in the family as the scribe for each new generation that comes along.
Beth Duke has written the story of a family in Delaney's People by using the short story form and then putting all those small stories together to form a narrative that is interesting, clever, heartwarming, as well as heartbreaking. It all begins with Maggie who is in awe of her great-granddaughter, Delaney. Before too long I, too, was charmed by Delaney as she wound her way through past and present as a composite of what her family has become.
There's something for everyone in **Delaney's People**. There is no shortage of love, yes, but there's so much more than that. There's deceit, lies, jealousy, passion, murder, loyalty, betrayal, and at the bottom of it all, there's the unshakeable strength of family ties and the role women play in keeping a family connected to each other. One of the things I liked so much about this book was Duke's treatment of the men. They were not the afterthoughts men can often be in a book primarily about women. Duke lets the reader in on the thoughts, hopes, and desires her male character have, and then she weaves in the woman's touch, and often wisdom, that comes from the female point of view. While this book is not a marriage manual, the intent of the overall book seemed to me to be that marriage can be a partnership in which both the man and the woman bring the best of themselves to the situations and issues that confront them. Each of the characters learns a life lesson that helps them overcome both small and large obstacles.
For me, the character I loved most was Maggie. She begins the story by talking about her jewelry and how she acquired most of it. The memories she shared through those sequences were wonderfully nostalgic. Not only that, but Maggie came up with what I consider to be the most innovative use for oysters I've ever heard. I only wish I'd known about it 15 years ago. Reading about Maggie maturing through the years was a picture of what I think being a cornerstone in a family means. The most heartbreaking character for me was Dr. Rob Clarke. He was the hardest character for me to leave behind because his story was so touching, moving, and tragic.
But then, that's how all of Delaney's People are. They are the people who live next door to us who've all had their share of trials and troubles and yet manage, somehow, to survive whatever life throws their way. Sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don't or can't or just plain won't. As long as there's a strong base and some blood, sweat, and tears, we're all Delaney's People in the end. I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy a very good story told in a unique way. It would make a great Holiday Gift for someone special on a list.
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