Review by ldlanagan -- The Reel Sisters

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Review by ldlanagan -- The Reel Sisters

Post by ldlanagan » 25 Feb 2018, 03:05

[Following is a volunteer review of "The Reel Sisters" by Michelle Cummings.]
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2 out of 4 stars
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If fishing is religion, fly fishing is high church.

-Tom Brokaw

Sophie wanders into a fly fishing shop, where she meets Rose for the first time. They have an instantaneous connection, because Rose is an extraordinary angler and Sophie is new to the sport. Sophie is eager to soak up any bit of advice she can get, and Rose is a natural teacher.

They begin spending time together at the cabin that Rose and her now-deceased husband, Bob, built together. On a flight there, Sophie meets Veronica, CEO of a company dedicated to empowering women. They talk the entire time, and exchange contact information before deplaning because Sophie has convinced “V” that she should come to the cabin sometime, too.

In her daily life, Sophie runs a nursery and pumpkin patch. She strikes up a conversation with a customer named Amanda, who is perpetually exhausted from “single parenting” because her husband is deployed. In order to give her some much needed peace, Sophie invites Amanda to Rose’s place as well. This is all learned in back story; the novel truly begins when they are all together on the river.

Everything is quiet except for the rushing of the water, so they hear the young woman screaming as she struggles against the current, terrified of drowning. All four friends rush to her aid, because not only is the water extremely cold, she’s not wearing any clothes. Sophie, Amanda, and Veronica take the young woman back to the cabin and put her in a hot shower, make tea, and find extra clothes…… while Rose is still outside, frozen in terrible memories from her past.

They learn that the young girl’s name is Melody, and four quickly become five, gathering at the cabin as often as they can, both for the tranquility of fishing alone, and the comfort of sharing meals, wine, and conversation afterward. It is wonderful being "alone together."

We also learn quite a bit about the characters while they are not fishing, and what draws them to the water.

Melody’s parents are musicians in the symphony, and have pushed her in that direction, as well. However, she’s not sure it is what she wants for herself. Her inner turmoil comes from being an extraordinarily talented musician without passion for the work. She is more comfortable behind the lens of her camera, where she doesn’t have to speak to anyone… and others have told her that her portfolio is stunning, especially self-portraits decorated with her intricate tattoos.

Veronica’s life is charmed. She travels the world giving lectures to women on leadership, and she’s married to the executive chef at an amazing restaurant. Their relationship radiates love and concern. What brings her to the water is escape from her professional personality, not any type of interpersonal angst. She is the type woman one would think of when hearing the phrase, “she has it all.” Because of this, she is humble beyond belief and not afraid of conflict. Everyone needs that friend who, when you’re doing something self-destructive, will tell you. In this group of friends, V has that market cornered.

Sophie was in love with a man that broke her heart, and she has convinced herself of two things. The first is that she’ll never have a love like that again, and the second is that she is not strong enough to withstand a second heartbreak when it will inevitably happen. She stuffs her disappointment and fear down into her socks, and though she is generally happy with her life as a successful small business owner, there are times when she wishes she could meet someone new, not realizing how easy it is if you are willing to try. Will has been missing for a very long time.

Amanda is deeply in love with her husband, Mike, and constantly worried about him because his job is to run behind the front line of combat and pick up broken weapons for repair. Because of this, she is living her entire life without myelin on her nerves, because she can’t take a break during the day between teaching and having two children, and she can’t sleep at night, either. They make their relationship work through Skype, and as the novel progresses we see a different side to them as Mike comes home and has to readjust to everyday levels of stress.

All trips to the cabin, for Rose, are a chance to feel close to Bob again… to remember when and why they built the house. She also genuinely enjoys being the mother hen of the group, as the resident expert in fly fishing and hospitality. When Rose speaks, most of the time the reply is, “thanks, Mom.” It comes naturally to Rose, this caretaking, because the other women are much younger. This is exciting to her, because she does not want the sport of fly fishing to be replaced by “an app for that.”

In this novel, there are fly fishing trips, and then you see the effects they have on each character. Being near the water (and each other) enriches their lives in immeasurable ways.

Interestingly enough, the climax of the story also deals with water, just in a different form. Though they’re in different locations, they are all literally weathering the same storm. When it is over, the metaphorical storm begins, and it is much darker.

The most important lesson that runs through the book is the connection between nature and friendship . Fly fishing teaches life lessons, often without the character realizing it immediately. They generally surface as light bulb moments in retrospect.

Each chapter is written in first person by a different main character, and sections start with a quote from well-known naturalists or fly fishing manuals. The quotes tie into the material very well, and at its heart, the novel attempts to recreate the magic of A River Runs Through It. The movie is even mentioned several times (I don’t think there’s a single character not in love with Brad Pitt after they’ve seen it). In some ways, this goal is achieved, and several passages will stay with me. My favorite is this short snippet: the capacity of a woman’s heart for her friends is vast, so vast it is hard to comprehend sometimes. Like the river transforms the land, the bond of friendship can transform your life.

It is also evident that each character dynamically changes from beginning to end, but some have bigger transformations than others. It is then we see how easily the women who aren’t in pain rush toward those who are. For me, it came across as a catch-and-release that turns over and over from one friend to another.

In short, all of the main characters realize that when you’re caught on a line, if you have a support system, there’s always someone with a net.

I am also a writer, so there are probably things that would jump out at me that wouldn’t to someone who just wanted a quick read by the lake. In the beginning, I was driven crazy by commas in the wrong place, punctuation used where it wasn’t needed and left out when it was, as well as the overwhelming number of redundancies. For instance, fly patterns and materials, so having a variety of materials… and releasing a trout is an offering of thanks for having a wonderful life and a reminder of the above ingredients necessary for creating a happy life.

There are also instances of using the wrong word at the wrong time, so that spell and grammar checks wouldn’t have caught it…. e.g., using “vile” instead of “vial.”

The last thing that really bothered me was that the book felt like it was written for younger readers with adult subject matter. The copy came across like technical writing, where the name of the game is to provide instructions using the exact same words every single time as not to confuse the reader, who has to put the instructions into practice. I would have liked to have seen deeper emotions from all the characters, using synonyms and variable sentence structure. The characters weren’t just “sad” or “mad,” but “bereft” and “infuriated.” It gave me the impression that the author could have dug much deeper than she actually did, especially since she was trying to illustrate just how profound the bond in this sisterhood becomes. The climax did not achieve its intended gravity, and in fact, was a bit glossed over. There was so much more to mine, the gold left untouched.

I rate this book 2 out of 4 stars. There were too many errors in editing for it not to distract from the overall story. I make it a point never to harp on grammar and miss the content, but the way the novel is put together actually subtracts from the ideas the author is trying to present. Unfortunately, the way these reviews are set, I cannot give it separate scores. The story is much better than the way it has been told.

I would love to see another edition of this book, one in which the problems I’ve mentioned are cleaned up and the characters, in turn, have more depth and breadth. I liked them all, wanted to get to know them, and indeed, live with them in their adventures…. at the end, returning to “reel life.”

The Reel Sisters
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