4 out of 4 stars
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Patty Dykstra isn’t particularly thrilled about where her life is going—or where others assume her life will be going. She’s been settling for an unpretentious existence for so long, but that all changes suddenly for Patty in author Ute Carbone’s literary fiction novel, The Tender Bonds.
Patty’s absent father had been sending her cards for years, but she knows nothing about it until after her aunt dies. Patty was a little girl the last time she saw her father, decades ago. Now, finally opening card after card from the man who used to call her “Star Shine,” Patty decides to put the life she’s been settling for on pause. She goes back to small-town Bensonville, convinced that she can go on with nothing else until she finds out what happened to her father.
Patty’s life-changing journey isn’t a syrupy-sweet one, but the author paints it with sweet moments woven in and with brilliant imagery. At points, Carbone’s writing almost sings off of the page, in notes that range from discordant to melodious. Phrases like one that tells of a grieving man whose voice is “heavy machinery” and another that shows a mirror shattering into “a million stars” add dimension to the novel’s contemplative style. The lessons the heroine has to learn about family, faith, hope, and love don’t have easy answers. Still, family, faith, hope, and love manage to shine through in unexpected places, through an unlikely band of flawed characters.
There’s a certain instance of repetition in Chapter Two that doesn’t appear intentional. At work one morning, Patty states to the reader that she needs to go back to Bensonville and find out if her father is still alive, as if she’s making the decision right then. However, a few pages before, Patty already mentioned making the decision earlier that morning, in narration and in conversation, with nearly the same wording.
Also, there seems to be some present and past tense confusion in one train of dialogue. In several cases throughout the novel, Patty slides in and out of present tense, clearly on purpose, as she slides in and out of her imagination. However, during a conversation in Chapter Four, the way she switches back and forth between tenses is awkward. At one point, she even switches from past to present tense within the same sentence, so it’s difficult to tell if she’s doing it completely on purpose or not, in that case.
Still, both the unbeautiful and beautiful pieces of the story itself deftly culminate into something compelling. Its little technical hitches aside, I give The Tender Bonds a rating of 4 out of 4 stars for the excellent development and depth in this story of hope. I’d recommend it to literary and women’s fiction enthusiasts who appreciate serious novels with a romantic thread.
The Tender Bonds
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