3 out of 4 stars
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In author Roberta R. Carr’s novel The Bennett Women, three generations of women reach a decisive point that could make or break their future as individuals and as a family. Muriel Bennett, an aging grandmother and artist, dreads the possibility that she may have to leave her home and move into an assisted living facility. Susanne Bennett—mother, divorcee, and savvy CEO—needs to make an international business trip, but a professional challenge is not all that awaits her overseas. Lilia Bennett-Parker, the daughter of divorced parents and a senior at a music conservatory, is under family pressures that are taking a toll on her growth as a cellist.
As the Bennett women’s storylines unfold, the author gives a fitting amount of time to each, developing and intertwining them naturally. Muriel, Susanne, and Lilia are well-crafted characters with talents, flaws, solid backstories, and realistic motives. Also, the minor characters have their own challenges and add interesting, important pieces to the novel without detracting from the Bennetts. Even with all that’s happening simultaneously with the characters, major and minor, the story never feels jumbled or as if it’s idling or steering off course.
There’s a quiet strength in Carr’s writing style. Although the author deals with some serious and tragic issues, the novel doesn’t become primarily dark or depressing. It incorporates a good helping of lighter and uplifting moments, and the inclusion of its Christmas theme would also make it an appropriate holiday read.
Though not all of the many section breaks within the chapters may be necessary, the novel has a smooth, easy flow as a whole. However, while the story’s turning point is beautiful, its pacing isn’t the most believable. When someone has been thinking or feeling a particular way for years, shifting away from those thought patterns and uprooting deep-seated emotions is oftentimes a slow process. Once the story’s central conflict comes to a head, it seems the Bennetts would’ve needed more time to make their attitude adjustments.
Also, the novel includes a blossoming romance, but even with the mutual attraction it depicts, the romance has a bit of a lopsided feel. One party shares much about her thoughts, feelings, and the experiences she’s having, and the other party listens but doesn’t reveal much about himself, at least not in the dialogue. He inwardly reasons that there’s “no need to rush their love,” but the reference to love seems abrupt. Granted, the situation is understandable enough for the two characters involved, especially since it’s built on their past. Still, the reader doesn’t get to witness that past firsthand or through flashback scenes. With only the characters’ current, somewhat uneven interaction portrayed in detail, although the romance is sweet, it lacks a certain impact.
Overall, I give The Bennett Women a rating of 3 out of 4 stars. Despite its weaker points, the novel handles substantive themes of life, love, mortality, forgiveness, and joy with warmth and simplicity. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys hopeful stories about family, especially readers of women’s fiction.
The Bennett Women
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