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A Simple Thing: A Novel

A Simple Thing: A Novel

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A Simple Thing: A Novel

4/5 (17 valoraciones)
328 página
5 horas
Jul 24, 2012


A Simple Thing is a lovely, truly heartwarming novel about the drastic measures two mothers take to keep their families safe. Kathleen McCleary, the critically acclaimed author of House and Home, tells the intertwining stories of Susannah Delaney and Betty Pavalak. Susannah moves her family to remote Sounder Island—a primitive retreat with no electricity—to escape television, the internet, and the dangerous, corrupting influences of the modern technological world. Decades earlier, Betty also came to the island to escape her demons. A Simple Thing is a poignant and unforgettable novel in the vein of Jacqueline Sheehan’s Lost and Found and The Art of Saying Goodbye by Ellyn Bache. It is a tale of family and friendship that Kristin Hannah fans will take into their hearts.
Jul 24, 2012

Sobre el autor

Kathleen McCleary is a journalist and author whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Ladies' Home Journal, More, and Good Housekeeping. Her second novel, A Simple Thing (2012), was recently nominated for the Library of Virginia Literary Awards. She has taught writing as an adjunct professor at American University and now teaches with Writopia Labs. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband and two daughters.

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A Simple Thing - Kathleen McCleary


Chapter 1

Susannah 2011

I’m not running away, Susannah told herself. After all, what she was doing could hardly be called running away when she was bringing her kids with her—including the child who, to be honest, she’d rather leave behind. She wasn’t leaving Matt, even though half the town thought so. This wasn’t about Matt, although he could have been a little more involved—okay, a lot more involved. She was doing exactly what she had sworn to do from that moment fourteen years ago when the nurse had first placed fierce newborn Katie into her arms: she was protecting her children.

The ferry began to move, and Susannah gripped the green iron railing with both hands and tried to still the fear rising in her chest. The blue-gray water rose in soft swells around the boat, and small whitecaps crowned the waves. It’s going to be okay, she said to herself. The breeze caught her hair and whipped it around her face, and for a moment she forgot her fear and felt a sudden sense of freedom. I’m really doing this. I’m leaving all that behind. She put a hand up to pull her hair behind her ears.

Quinn, her son, stood next to her, his long blond hair blowing back in the wind, gazing at the water moving below them. Yards away the pebbled beach and fir-covered hills of Anacortes basked in the October sun. Giant driftwood logs, the bleached bones of some faraway forest, lay scattered along the uppermost edges of the rocky shore. The ferry chugged forward.

Is this the ocean? Quinn said.

Yes, Susannah said. She focused on keeping her voice steady and calm, for Quinn. I guess so. We’re in a big bay here, but on the other side of these islands is Vancouver Island, and then the Pacific.

She had pored over the map their new landlord had sent to her, memorizing the names and shapes of the islands, the straits, the bays. Now she knew the large masses of Orcas and San Juan, tiny little Patos and Sucia, funny H-shaped Henry Island, and, of course, Sounder, their destination, six square miles of deep forests and rugged beaches at the northern tip of the San Juan Islands.

Look. Quinn pointed to the sky, where a large bird wheeled in sweeping circles above the boat.

Susannah put up her hand to shade her eyes against the sun and saw a black silhouette against the brightness.

It’s an eagle! Quinn said. I’ve only ever seen one before.

How do you know it’s an eagle?

By the way it flies, he said. See how it holds its wings out really flat and straight? That’s how you can tell it’s an eagle and not a hawk.

He loved his animals, her boy. He’d left more than six pets behind at home, including two cats, a rabbit, and a salamander. "You can bring one creature along with us," she’d told him, and he’d chosen his beloved box turtle, Otis, who was in a plastic pet carrier at his feet.

Susannah watched the eagle soar until it flew off behind them, back toward shore. When was the last time she’d had even a minute just to watch the sky? Back home in Tilton, their lives were a full catastrophe of work, school, soccer practice, dive team, flute lessons, drum lessons, basketball, Little League, Ecology Club, and, not to be forgotten, Young Zookeepers Club. There, in their lovely little suburb in the northernmost corner of Virginia, the craziness started in September when the leaves on the cherry trees turned rusty red, and ran right through July when the first tomatoes ripened. With the first day of school the whole family was suddenly hurled into an endless sprint of constant activity, like sinewy greyhounds running after a lure they could never quite catch.

Susannah had to paste little pink sticky notes on the dashboard of her car to remind her where she was supposed to be when. Quinn Zoo 3:00 bring boots and Mr. Mumbles to vet 4:30 and granola bars juice Adams soccer field 6:00. Like everyone in Tilton, Susannah spent her afternoons and evenings and weekends driving from one lesson or game or practice to another, the children flicking crumbs from their laps as they ate in the car. We’re so busy, the parents all said. The kids never get enough sleep. My family thinks a home-cooked meal is a grilled cheese sandwich.

But for Susannah, of course, a home-cooked meal wasn’t a grilled cheese sandwich: it was homemade pizza and soups simmered for hours and biscuits made from scratch. She’d quit work the year after Quinn was born and devoted herself to giving her kids the childhood she never had, being the role model she never had. So in addition to managing the kids’ packed schedules, she also volunteered at the school library twice a week, served on the board of the Tilton Arts Foundation, cooked meals for the Tilton homeless shelter every month, and served as secretary for the PTA. It was exhausting, being that responsible and good all the time.

Not anymore, Susannah said.

Not anymore what? Quinn said.

Nothing. Susannah smiled at him. I was thinking out loud. Thanks for showing me the eagle. I’m going to check on Katie. Don’t lean too far over the railing. Fear rose again from her stomach into her chest, and she felt slightly sick.

Mom. I’m eleven, I’m not a baby, Quinn said, but he smiled at her.

The thought of going to find Katie also made her feel slightly sick. For the past year, thinking about Katie and worrying about Katie and checking up on Katie had crowded every moment of her waking existence, and haunted most of her dreams, too.

‘You can only be as happy as your unhappiest child,’ Matt would quote to her, but Susannah didn’t believe that. If anything, she herself was unhappier than Katie, because of Katie. The ferry could not pull them away fast enough from that life.

Susannah took a deep breath and pushed open the wide swinging doors that led to the main cabin. She looked around, past a toddler rolling on the gray linoleum floor, past backpacks and briefcases and people clutching their coffees, until she spotted her daughter slouched in the corner of a booth, her back against the window, feet up on the brown vinyl banquette, her eyes glued to a magazine in her lap.

Hey, Susannah said, slipping into the booth next to her.

Katie didn’t look up. My cell phone doesn’t work here, she said.

Susannah ignored her comment. Of course she couldn’t expect Katie to be happy about this move. She just hoped Katie understood the necessity of it.

Quinn just spotted an eagle, Susannah said. Do you want to come outside and see what it’s like here?

I know what it’s like, Katie said, her eyes on the magazine. Water, island, water, island, water, island. Living with the whales is going to change my life. I’m the Free Willy poster child. Woo-hoo. She raised one finger in the air and spun it in a circle.

We’re still hours away, Susannah said. Give it a chance.

Katie put the magazine down, slid her long legs underneath the table, and turned away from Susannah. Her thick dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and Susannah could see the delicate curve of her ear just above the lobe. She remembered poring over that space when Katie was a baby, her shell-like ear tilted toward Susannah’s face as she nursed. She had a sudden impulse to lean over and brush her lips along her daughter’s lobe, as she had then, to inhale the wonderful warm scent of her neck. This is that child. She’s still here, somewhere. And just as she bent forward, almost mesmerized, Katie jumped and said, God, Mom, how about some personal space?

Katie—, Susannah began.

"I’m here, Katie said. But I don’t want to be here, and I’m not going to go out on the deck with you and Quinn and do some happy dance about the trees and the eagles. Can you please just leave me alone for now?"

Katie! Come on. It’s an adventure.

Katie turned her head and leveled a look at her mother. "Going to live on an island without electricity is not an adventure. It’s crazy."

It’s different. It’s a change. It’s a chance to get out of the rut we were in.

I was not in a rut.

Susannah’s stomach clenched with a familiar fear. She’s okay, she told herself. She’s safe now. "Rut is a polite word for it," Susannah said.

Polite? Katie said. Why? Because really it was ‘a total disaster’ or something?

No, Susannah said. There’s no need to be all melodramatic about it.

Right! Katie said. "Because there’s nothing melodramatic about ripping me out of school and taking me to an island. Nope. Completely normal, that."

Katie did have a point, although Katie was too young—and too fearless—to understand the big picture, to know how quickly and easily something fun and simple could turn dark and ominous, slide into a life-altering disaster.

All right. We’re making a very big change, I’ll grant you that, Susannah said. But that Zach— She stopped. The party that night—

Oh, my God, Katie said. I’m so glad we’re here, moving on to our new life, where you can still nag me about everything I’ve ever done wrong.

As things had started to unravel this year, Susannah had realized that no matter how many activities she organized and coached, no matter how many parenting books she read and therapists she consulted and problem-solving talks she had with Matt, none of it would change a damn thing. Their crazy schedule, the endless round of activities, was supposed to be the antidote to the insidious influence of something Susannah couldn’t even name, but that was seeping into her family anyway.

It’s not just you, Susannah said to Katie. Quinn needed a break, too.

Quinn’s a freak, Katie said.

Susannah stifled an urge to grab her by both shoulders and shake her. This child, whose every heartbeat Susannah had felt as her own, was now someone she didn’t even know. Sometimes, lying awake in bed at night while Matt snored gently next to her, she wondered if she had reached the supposedly boundless limits of mother love, like rocketing into space only to slam into a big black concrete wall, to find there was an end to the universe after all.

Susannah remembered the first few weeks after Katie was born when, crazy with hormones and sleep deprivation, she had sat staring at her baby for hours at a time, weeping with awe and gratitude. This will be the greatest love of my life forever, she thought. No matter what other children I have, no matter what happens with Matt. This. And Katie was the kind of child who inspired deep emotion. As an infant she would cling to Susannah, put her gummy mouth on Susannah’s chin and suck wildly, as though she wanted to draw the very essence of Susannah’s soul into her fierce baby self.

She continued to grow into her fierceness, becoming a little girl who cared—deeply, too much—about everything. In elementary school she organized a protest against the aide who oversaw lunchtime recess. She drew up a letter detailing the aide’s transgressions, which ranged from the understandable (no standing on top of the monkey bars) to the outrageous (pinching kids in time-out). More than fifty kids signed Katie’s letter, and the aide resigned. The storm of feelings that swirled around Katie—children’s savior, principal’s bane—never settled, like tumbleweeds spinning endlessly across the plains.

But when she started seventh grade, more than a year ago, everything changed. The girl who used to spend hours writing plays for Quinn, casting him as the gentle king or brave prince; who once stayed up all night to help him care for a baby bird he’d found limp in the grass; who used to crawl into Susannah’s bed and hug her and whisper, Don’t ever die, Mommy, because I couldn’t stand to be without you—that girl had become sullen and wild and sometimes downright mean.

She started to tease Quinn—sweet, sensitive Quinn with his skinny legs and wide smile—about horrible viruses like Ebola and Marburg, until he started wearing a bandanna over his mouth and nose at recess to avoid germs. She told a racy joke on-air during school announcements. She climbed onto the school roof on a dare and took a photo of herself next to the bell tower, hundreds of feet above ground. She was suspended for two days after she distributed two hundred copies of her own version of the school newspaper—complete with a scathing story about popular Abby Whittle, who, according to Katie’s paper, had plagiarized the essay on good citizenship that had won her a hundred dollars and a byline in the Washington Post.

Then the Troubles with Katie, as Matt called them (as though it were a book or a movie and not something they had to live through every day), gained momentum, a swirl of thick warm clouds gathering strength before a hurricane. There was the day Susannah came home early to find Katie on the couch kissing some boy; the day Katie skipped school and went to the mall with that girl who had been arrested twice for selling pot; the night Katie climbed out her bedroom window and shimmied down the cherry tree and met some friends in the park at midnight. One of the kids had beer, and Katie came home tipsy—at age fourteen. Within a month came the final incident that unraveled everything. Susannah felt sick thinking about it—the terrifying trip to the emergency room, with Katie pale and cold and limp in her arms while Matt gunned their old Subaru through red lights and asked over and over, Is she breathing? Is she still breathing? She remembered counting Katie’s slow breaths—ten a minute, then eight a minute—and trying to keep Katie upright so she wouldn’t choke if she vomited. She remembered the look the nurse in the emergency room had given her after checking Katie’s pulse and reflexes—a look of pity that scared Susannah more than anything that had happened yet that night.

We had to do something, Susannah said. Katie was still turned away from her, toward the big window, looking down at her magazine.

You overreacted, Katie said.

I overreacted? Susannah said. "My father was an alcoholic. You’re fourteen. You drank so much you were unconscious—"

Stop it! Katie said. I know! I could have died! I’ve had the lecture a million times.

Katie threw her magazine down, pulled her knees up to her chest, and wrapped her arms around her legs. All at once she looked young, wounded.

Katie, Susannah said, her voice soft, it scared us. If Annie hadn’t called . . .

It was one time, Mom, Katie said, her voice muffled against her knees. "One time. I told you. We were just messing around and didn’t know we were drinking too much. It’s not like I was doing that every day, or was about to. It’s not like other kids don’t experiment, too. Her voice was thick now, on the brink of tears. But their parents don’t use that as an excuse to pull them out of school and exile them."

One time, Susannah thought. That’s what Susannah’s father used to say, too, at first—until it became such a clear and obvious lie that even he couldn’t choke it out anymore. She could picture him standing in the kitchen, his back to the sink, looking at her mother—first pleading, then angry—while she and Jon tried to disappear into their chairs, heads pulled down, shoulders hunched, curling over and into themselves like snails.

It’s not exile, Kate, Susannah said.

Right. Katie turned her face to the glass, her back to Susannah. "It’s just pulling me away from all my friends and dragging me someplace where no one can even come visit me. Where even Dad can barely visit us."

Mom. Quinn materialized at her elbow, his face flushed with wind and cold, his nose dripping.

Susannah put a hand on Katie’s leg, a touch meant to comfort, to reassure. But Katie pulled away like she’d been burned.


She turned to Quinn. What is it? You look frozen.

It’s just windy. Quinn rubbed his nose on the sleeve of his orange sweatshirt. Mom, I met someone who lives on San Juan Island. He said he’s lived up here twenty-five years and he’s never been to Sounder. He said the people on Sounder don’t like outsiders. He said one time he went over to take pictures because there were some cormorants nesting there, and the people there wouldn’t even let him step off the dock.

That’s one person’s point of view, honey. Our landlord was very friendly when I talked to her.

Katie lifted her head. I knew it, she said. I knew it was crazy to come to Little House on the Stupid Island.

Susannah saw the crease between Quinn’s brows, the concern in his bright blue eyes. Over the past months he’d become more and more of a loner. Susannah and Matt had talked to his teachers, talked to the principal, but the bullying had been subtle, insidious—taunts hissed in low voices on the playground, accidental bumps in the hallways when the teacher’s head was turned. They’d taken him to a therapist about his germ phobia, but the social damage had already been done. Sure, he’d stopped wearing bandannas around his mouth and nose, but he was still the kid who loved turtles, the kid who could (and all too readily would) quote a million obscure facts about everything from earthworm digestion to rabbit reproduction, the kid who felt things so keenly that tears sprang to his eyes too often to allow him to fit in. Two weeks ago he’d come home bloodied from the bus stop, the day before Katie’s drinking binge. The last straws.

What if no one on Sounder likes us? Quinn said. His eyelashes were so pale they seemed to disappear, giving his face a look of wide-eyed innocence.

It’s not going to be like that, sweetie. You’ll see. You’re going to make some great new friends.

Yeah, if they don’t burn you at the stake first, Katie said. "Did you ever see that movie The Wicker Man, about the police officer who went to that remote island and it turned out all the people there were involved in some bizarre cult and they made him a human sacrifice and burned him up?"

Kate! Shut up!

Fine, she said. I’m just saying. She took her iPod out of her backpack, put the earbuds into her ears, and turned it on.

Mom? Quinn said. Is that true? Did you see that movie?

She looked at the two of them and recalled snapshots of other Katies and Quinns: four-year-old Quinn at the park, filling her pockets with his gifts—a stone, a maple seed pod, the cap of an acorn. Katie, not yet one, taking delighted baby steps with her bare feet in the new grass on the first warm morning of spring, crowing with delight. These were her children, and yet not her children; she loved them as much as she ever had, but also, at times, felt almost like she couldn’t stand them. The things that had happened this year had required so much attention and vigilance—not to mention raw emotion—that she felt completely spent.

Susannah looked out the window of the ferry. The skyline was sharp, pointed with the tips of the firs—unlike the soft, rounded skyline of the deciduous trees back home in Virginia. The snow-capped summit of Mount Baker floated on the horizon. Friday Harbor, the ferry’s destination, was the biggest town in the San Juans, yet it didn’t even have a traffic light. From there they’d have to travel another hour and a half on a small boat to Sounder, where there were no paved roads, no landline phones, no electricity, and just seventy-five people.

Susannah glanced at her daughter, curled in a ball of anger in the corner of the booth, at her son standing next to her, wide-eyed and afraid. She thought of her husband, all alone in their big house three thousand miles away. She thought, with some guilt, about the relief she felt in leaving him behind.

She hoped she wasn’t making the biggest mistake of her life.

Chapter 2

Betty 2011

Betty Pavalak stood at her kitchen sink and gazed out the window, although she could see nothing but her own reflection. Dusk came early now. Night up here in the San Juans was dark and blacker than anything she’d ever known. She had hated that at first—the nights so dark you couldn’t take a step outside without stumbling, unsure of where the ground began beneath your very feet. After the bright lights and wide skies of Seattle, those early nights tucked in here at the edge of the woods had pressed in on her like a crowded elevator. More than once she had gotten out of bed, ripped open the buttons at the neck of her nightgown, and stumbled onto the porch to breathe, facing the ocean, the escape.

Betty lit a cigarette and took a long drag, watching the tiny red glow light up her reflection in the window. Funny, this new tenant, Susannah, was coming here because she wanted to. Betty had wanted to come here, too, for about six months, until she realized that living on a remote island was not going to change one good goddamned thing about Bill Pavalak, and that she had just signed herself up for the kind of lifestyle you couldn’t pay someone to do—up at the crack of dawn to feed chickens and goats, chopping wood to feed the hungry stove, boiling and washing and tending things all day long, all without even a decent light bulb to make it that much easier. But after six months she was pregnant, and the only thing she wanted more than going back home to her family in Seattle was a baby. So she had stayed.

She liked the nights now, found the darkness soft and comforting. When she went to the mainland to see her sisters in Seattle or the doctor in Bellingham, the glow of light everywhere seemed harsh and intrusive, a visual cacophony. She didn’t remember at what point the darkness here had become friendly to her, just as she couldn’t remember exactly when the sound of the rain beating against the roof had taken on a soothing rhythm, no longer the steady, insistent patter that had threatened her very sanity that first year. It was all how you decided to look at things.

Betty took a last swig of coffee and put her mug down on the counter. She stubbed out her cigarette in the mug and picked up her parka from the hook by the back door. Did she need to bring anything? She opened the door and peered out at the sky. The sun wouldn’t set for another hour yet, so if the ferry had been on time and the waters in Governor’s Channel were not too rough, then Jim should be at the dock in ten minutes and they’d be able to get this new family settled into the cottage while there was still some daylight. But she picked up the flashlight from the counter to bring with her, just in case.

Hey, Grim. Hood, her oldest grandson (if you wanted to count the two minutes he was in the world before his twin was born), appeared in the doorway. Ready to go?

Even in the soft light she could see his green eyes, exactly like his father’s and grandfather’s.

Yes, I’m ready, she said. Let me give the stew a final stir.

Hood rolled his eyes. Come on. We want to be there when they get in.

You’ll be there, she said. Here. She handed him the flashlight and looked around the kitchen for her wooden spoon until she found it in the sink. She knew the twins were excited; there hadn’t been a child their age on Sounder since Sally Lewis moved away three years ago.

Where’s your brother?

Waiting in the truck. Let’s go.

Betty lifted the lid from the cast-iron skillet and gave the stew a slow, careful stir. She planned to feed this Susannah and her kids tonight, and give them some supplies for breakfast tomorrow. She was willing to bet that Susannah—used to all-night grocery stores and convenience stores and restaurants—hadn’t even thought about bringing a day or two’s supply of food with her. Ah, well. Betty hadn’t thought of that, either, her first night on Sounder. She and Bill had arrived on the dock with two sandwiches and their duffel bags and their mutual resentments and not much else. Susannah would learn soon enough that you could take nothing for granted when you lived in a place like this.

"Grim, Hood said. The boys had called her Grim since they could talk, a term of endearment coined by Jim, her clever son, when she’d objected to being called Gram. Can we go now?"

What’s the rush? She dipped the spoon into the stew, ladled up a small taste of the broth, brought it to her lips, and blew on it to cool it off. She was teasing him, and he knew it. She was almost as excited about the new tenants as he was. Susannah’s rent would add a comfortable amount to Betty’s small income, and, to be honest, Betty was a bit lonely since school had started, with Jim teaching and the boys at school all day and Fiona, her daughter-in-law, away. It would be good to have Susannah around. And since Susannah would be here without her husband, she’d

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  • (5/5)

    Esto le resultó útil a 1 persona

    I think this is going to be my favorite book of the year! This was an amazing story in so many ways. If you were to ask me "What kinds of books do you like?" I say - this kind! Beautiful writing, excellent character development, outstanding scenery descriptions! Absolutely couldn't get any better. I loved this book! I just read and read but didn't want it to end. This book kind of reminded me of another one of my favorite books - "Still Life With chickens" which I have read twice! I have a feeling I will be re-reading this one sometime.This book was just about - life. I got it, I understood it, I agreed with it! I am a real "scenery type person". I want to feel like I can just walk into the book, I want to feel like I am right there. I want to look it up on a map and know that I could go there and actually feel like I had been there before. This book made me feel all those things. I did look up those islands on Google maps and found them. I even looked up houses for sale in the area just to get a feel for what it was like. I know, I know I'm a strange person! But that's what I do for fun! LOLThis story really made me feel like I had been there. I could very easily picture everything, the cabins, the shore, the boats, the people, the kitchens, everything. All through the book Susannah kept thinking that she was a terrible mother. And everyone else kept saying that she was too overprotective. But I didn't think that at all! If I found my 14 yr. old daughter passed out drunk and had to take her to the hospital - I would take them all to an Island too! I don't think she was too over protective at all. I think she was just right. This book really made me think about my choices as a mother. I think I would have done all the same things as Susannah did.The character development for the teen daughter, Katie, was excellent! I have never believed in hitting kids, but I would have found it very difficult to resist smacking the heck out of that girl! Seriously! What a brat with a mouth (the worst kind!).At one point in the book I had to stop reading - I knew it was going to be sad and it was just not a good time for me to be crying!As I read on, I thought I was going to be disappointed in the ending - but I wasn't - the ending was great! Sad, and with a twist!I am going to say - that if you like books about life, if you like books about family, about starting over, about island life, about friends helping each other - this is the Must read of the year!Slight warning - some swearing, and adult situations. But I just don't think a teenager would be interested in reading this, it is definitely a woman type book.

    Esto le resultó útil a 1 persona

  • (4/5)
    When I first picked up this book I wondered if it was going to be one of those character-driven novels where there is a lot of talking, very little actually going on, and by the end of which you're wondering what is it exactly you've just read. I am not too big of a fan of those. But "A Simple Thing" turned out to focus both on the characters and on plot. From the very first chapter it was obvious that Susannah is a woman who is not afraid to act, even if fear is what propels her. She, as well as her children, made things happen, and I liked that about them as much as I liked that Susannah recognized her mistakes and was willing to correct her course when necessary. She may seem flighty to some, but to me she is a woman figuring it out as she goes, and I feel that this makes her relatable for most people. Betty, the second protagonist, is her antipode in many ways, a solid, sure woman who makes plans and follows them, even if she realizes later on that she has made a mistake somewhere. The blurb on the back cover suggests that both Susannah and Betty undergo a transformation but I found this misleading. Suzannah is the one discovering herself and while Betty's story often mirrors that of the younger woman she has already recovered from the pain of her past and is now there to sympathize, listen, and provide a gentle nudge in the direction of healing. There are a few good messages woven into this novel, and one of my favorites is the one that talks about the necessity of nurturing oneself. We forget about that much too frequently and it really is a universal truth that applies to both men and women, although women are the ones who need reminders most frequently. Susannah getting in touch with her artistic side after a hiatus of many years was the turning point of the book for me, echoed by Betty's recollection of the time whine she remembered that she was more than just a woman who took care of everything and everyone. The parallels between these two women's lives were eery at times, and while they are very different people their stories somehow anchored each other, showing that no matter how different the people the same principles of recovery apply.For the most part this was a very enjoyable book filled with interesting characters (Barefoot stole every scene he was in and Katie definitely made things interesting with her indomitable spirit) and sage advice on subjects such as guilt, responsibility, knowing when to hold on and when to let go, and it worked for me until almost the very end when a dramatic event seemed to be too over the top to fit in with the rest of the story while remaining its climax. That chapter was well-written but it was just too much for me, although it did help Susannah put a lot of things in perspective and move forward with her life. Throughout the book this was a relatively subtle story with the struggle mostly internal and turning it almost into an adventure story at the eleventh hour seemed incongruent.A friend offered me an ARC of this book when she somehow got two copies and I'm glad that she did. It is a solid novel and I won't hesitate to pick up other novels by Kathleen McCleary should I happen upon them.
  • (4/5)
    I don't read a lot of domestic fiction. Too often it's about the problems of suburban housewives/mommies or families with a much higher than average income and I just don't really relate having been neither of those categories. I was an urban mommy and have never had a stratospheric income. I decided I was interested in A Simple Thing because the story sounded different and also because it takes place on one of the San Juan Islands - one of my favorite places in the Pacific Northwest. As I child I was in a camp at the Seattle Zoo and one of thing things we got to do was go camping for a weekend in the San Juans and I've never forgotten the experience.A Simple Thing did not disappoint. A good read with issues of anxiety, mourning, death, learning to trust, marriages ending or renewing, a new awareness of self threaded throughout. I loved that there were two stories here - that of Susannah and of Betty. The friendship that develops between the two women in the book and the ways their stories intertwined really works for the reader. They both gave me some things to think about. Highly recommended.
  • (4/5)
    This book, while a quick read, is so similar to all the other books out there: parents who just don't get along anymore, kids who are troubled, a move to the middle of nowhere to save the marriage, the kids, the sanity, etc. and then something life changing happens and everything is suddenly all better.As I said before the book was a quick and entertaining read, but nothing really noteworthy or unique.
  • (4/5)
    Kids don't come with a manual. Frankly, even if they did, they wouldn't have read it so it wouldn't matter anyway. Marriages and relationships also don't come with a manual. I'd make a crack about husbands not reading one either but that's just too easy. Since there's no right answer to raising children or being a good partner, most of us just muddle along the best way we know how. Susannah Delaney, in Kathleen McCleary's newest novel, is trying to do just that, even while she deals with her own complicated childhood history. Susannah's young teenaged daughter Katie seems to be going off the rails, running with the wrong sorts of people at school, drinking, and becoming closed off and sullen with family. Son Quinn, a quirky kid interested in animals and science and other things most kids don't care much about is being bullied unmercifully at school. Both of these things combine to drive Susannah to a desperate act: pulling the kids from school and their Virginia home to spend the rest of the year living on remote Sounder Island, one of the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington, an island without electricity and only a handful of residents. In doing this, Susannah leaves behind her husband Matt, a man she has loved since she was a child and whom she risks losing completely as she struggles to do the best thing she can for her children. But Susannah isn't just trying to rescue her chidren by moving to Sounder Island, she's also trying to face the long ago drowning death of her baby sister Jane, to forgive herself for not being able to protect Jane, and to forgive her mother for putting her child in harm's way. Susannah has spent her entire motherhood trying to protect her own children from all the things that could be dangerous to them, to shelter them from her worst nightmares, to be the mother that she blames her own mother for not being. But Katie, at least, is now rebelling against her mother's intense and worried love and the fears that have driven them all the way across the country to this remote place.The woman who rents a cottage to the Delaneys is Betty Pavalak. She's a long-time widow whose son and grandchildren live on Sounder too. She is a charming and friendly neighbor who has her own ghosts of the past. Sounder Island was her own way to try and repair a floundering marriage so many years ago. She moved to the island so that her husband would be able to live away from the city and the paper-pushing job that was destroying him and so that he would be less likely to stray from their marriage. Despite his flaws, Betty stilled loved her husband and didn't want to lose him even starting to accept the idea that they would not be able to have children. And once on Sounder, she managed to become pregnant and have a son even if she couldn't change the fiber of who her husband was. But she also managed to come to peace with the path of her life as her husband worked most of the year in Alaska and she stayed behind on Sounder with their son and raised him alone.The narrative slips seamlessly between both of these women who looked to this small island to heal themselves and their relationships. It also moves from present to past and back again as both Susannah and Betty's whole histories unfold. Susannah has to learn to accept her past before she can embrace her present. As she struggles with Katie's continued rebellion and with Matt's growing emotional distance and hurt at her unilateral decision to disappear for the year, she has to learn truths about herself before she can ease up and let life unfold at its own pace, making not only her family happier but herself as well. Betty, on the other hand, uses her wisdom and the care that she has spent the years cultivating to help Susannah and to add immeasurably to the lives of all those on the island whom she loves.This is a novel of not just survival but of coming through hardships stronger than before. It is about learning to let go when necessary and to let love and trust carry the day, even if doing so is one of the hardest things ever. The back stories of both the women are engrossing although they are quite disparate in experience. Some of the issues raised, such as Quinn's being bullied disappear handily and while there's really no chance for him to be bullied on the island, the emotional ramifications of the bullying also disappear pretty easily. And given that Matt has been privy to Susannah's thoughts and feelings since before the accident that resulted in Susannah's sister Jane's drowning death and then also for so many years afterwards, he seems to have hit his breaking point sort of out of the blue now that she's not at home. But their marital woes are ultimately fixed fairly easily once Susannah faces her past and absolves herself of responsibility for Jane's death. Some of the emotionally laden situations are not developed to the extent that they might have been but in general, this novel of two women trying to make the right and best life they can for those they love is a quick and pleasing read.
  • (4/5)
    A Simple Thing is at its heart the story of two women, Susannah Delaney and Betty Pavalak, and an island. Their arrivals on Sounder Island are separated by many years but their reasons are basically the same... they want to save their children and themselves. Susannah's teenage daughter is spiraling out of control and her son is suffering greatly at the hands of bullies at school. She feels that unless something drastic is done, there will be horrible consequences. So she decides to take her children to Sounder Island for a year and leave her husband at home in Virginia. Sounder is a remote island off the coast of the Pacific Northwest that is only accessible by private boat from another island. There is no electricity, no internet, a one-room schoolhouse and no malls or movie theaters - pretty much the complete opposite of their previously overscheduled overstimulated suburban lives. Susannah has a history with the island and a long-buried secret that has haunted and shaped her. Betty came to Sounder in the 50's in an effort to save her failing marriage and ended up making a home there for her son and herself. This is a great beach read and a very interesting story. Some of it may seem to be more than a little far-fetched to the everyday person but it's fiction not a how-to manual, so that was alright with me.
  • (5/5)
    I am so excited when I find books that really speak to the heart of things I had to endure in my personal life before I found God and this is the perfect example, A Simple Thing by Kathleen McCleary. The subject matter is true to life in this imperfect world but yet the story speaks volumes to those of us hurting in so many different ways, that it doesn't have to stay that way. There is hope and there are ways to deal with those extremely painful times and move forward.Sounder Island is that place for two remarkable women who come to this isolated island for a much more simple life, a place for solitude and a place to deal with things in their own way. Susannah Delaney is having issues in three very different but understandable ways. Her daughter, Katie at 14 is pulling away from her overly controlling mom by sneaking out late at night, attending parties her mother knows nothing about and drinking while seeing a older boy that both parents know is influencing her in negative ways to rebel. When her drinking gets out of hand, almost killing her, Susannah feels that a change in environment is the cure. Her youngest son, Quinn is the subject of being bullied and when he comes home from school, badly beaten up, she feels her decision to move the family to Sounder Island is the right one.However for two very active kids, they aren't looking forward to complete isolation on the island at a cottage with no electricity, indoor plumbing and living off the land. Yet is Susannah doesn't take action, she believes she will lose one, if not both of her children to a lifestyle she can't control. However, her husband Matt, doesn't believe that running away with the kids is the answer, but Susannah is firmly convinced that the next 9 months will be life-saving to her kids. If Matt won't support her, she'll go anyway. So she pulls the kids out of school and makes plans to rent a cottage and live there until the end of the school year.Betty Pavalak has moved to the island as well to avoid a very painful past. When her husband Bill wanted a change of pace from his day to day, nine to five, life style, he attempted to convince Betty to move to Alaska so he could pursue a life of a fisherman and provide a more stable financial life for them, but Betty didn't want to give up her family, friends or her job, for the excitement Bill wanted in Alaska. But when she miscarries three of her children, she wonders if a change of pace might just be the thing to restore the distance between her and Bill. However when she compromises and settles for a life in Sounder Island instead, Bill is content, but his commitment to his marriage wavers and Betty soon learns that Bill is having an affair. She doesn't know what to do anymore and feels that she can't live with Bill any longer but doesn't want to divorce him either, now that she learns she is pregnant again. Will she be able to find the peace and love she so desperately needs?I received The Simple Things by Kathleen McCleary compliments of William Morrow, a division of Harper Collins Publishers for my honest review and I have to say, this book captivated me in a different way than I thought possible. It takes a hard look at the unfortunate set of circumstances each of these women have been dealt in life, and shows you how each of them weathered through them to get to the other side. While faith is rarely mentioned, it does portray each set of problems in very real ways in my opinion. While the choices are not easy made, they do move forward at their own pace, dealing with a wide range of emotions that really tugs on your heart strings. I could relate to so many of their issues, even though teenage drinking wasn't an issue for me. This is a very real and believable book that I think women can honestly relate to. For that reason, I give this a 5 out of 5 stars. While I don't condone the decisions some of these women made, its the believability and vulnerability of the characters, Kathleen McCleary creates that I enjoyed the most and I loved how the story is told from both Betty and Susannah's perspectives in alternating chapters.
  • (4/5)
    A Simple Thing by Kathleen McCleary examines the extreme measures two women take to protect their children. The novel is a William Morrow imprint of Harper Collins Publishing.Hopes nearly dashed by her daughter’s online scandal and suspension from school, Susannah Delaney moves her sweet son and sullen daughter to a remote island off the Oregon coast. So begins A Simple Thing by Kathleen McCleary.Thirty years ago, Betty Pavalak relocated to Sounder Island as well to raise her son while her fisherman husband was away. Drastic measures must be taken when your family is foundering. Sometimes protecting your children outweighs working on your marriage. Suffering brings both women to Sounder Island. The bond they develop is an unlikely balm for their troubles and a bolster to their identities.Sounder Island, six square miles of rich forest and beautiful beaches west of Vancouver, seems light years away from the Delaney’s busy suburban life in Virginia. Susannah’s son, Quinn, is clearly excited about the move, but Katie, thirteen and bound to be resentful, complains that their new life is just, “water, island, water, island…” Living on an island with no electricity becomes not just a respite from the hectic, problematic life they lived before, but also a challenge. Storing food in a cold cellar because no refrigerator is available tests their adaptability. You will meet a crotchety old hermit suspicious of the newcomers and a handsome one-room schoolhouse teacher. Be prepared to fall in love with Barefoot. McCleary’s characters are layered and imbued with humanity for the mistakes they fear and the courage they display. Long distance marriage and its effects on children as well as spouses is a major theme. The book explores its complications and implications. Although the author handles each character’s voice clearly and with grace, the multiple characters introduced in flashbacks confused this reader. A discrepancy in the story happens when the teacher states that he doesn’t pass on to the parents what students confide in him and then proceeds to give Susanna much detail about Katie’s problems.A Simple Thing is a wise mediation on love and the implications of the difficult decisions it demands.I thank William Morrow Paperbacks, a division of Harper Collins, for the advance release copy.Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont
  • (4/5)
    I knew right away that I was going to enjoy this book. I was eager to learn what was in store for Susannah and her children when they got to the island. Then I got caught up in Betty's story, her self determination and her refusal to be a victim. I was happy when Betty finally found someone as interesting and worldly as Barefoot, and I cried tears for Betty's loss and then for her ability to endure and to hold in her heart all the joy that Barefoot brought into her life. I enjoyed Susannah's story also. She and her children were able to wade through the difficult water of their own pain and come out stronger on the other side. When I finished "A Simple Thing", I felt the satisfaction I always feel when I've read a wonderful book.
  • (5/5)
    This was by far my favorite book I have won. The story flowed along beautifully and I couldn't put it down.It's about a mother trying to save her children from the trials and tribulations of society today and I think to find a little reprieve for herself too. She packs up the children and moves them to a remote island to get away from it all. She leaves her husband back at home in the process but each needed a break. Once gone, I think everyone realizes what is important and just what family can do together.
  • (3/5)
    A quick read for summer......Susannah, the mother, leaves Matt, her husband, and goes to live on a remote island with her two children just because she thinks they should be living a more simple life. She is having trouble with her daughter Katie (who doesn't have problems with teenagers! ) and her son Quinn is being bullied and she thinks this is a quick fix and this move for 9 months will solve all the problems. And her husband just lets her go. However, some of the characters are strong and the book moves along pretty good.
  • (4/5)
    I thought this was a well written quick summer read. The characters were interesting and well formed. I loved the Island location and the notion of someone actually running away from their problems.***SPOILERS***When I read the squib on this on the early reviewers site they talked about a woman who flees to Island life to protect her family - a daughter who is experimenting with alcohol and sex and a son who is being bullied. And i thought. YES. a book not centered around a tragic death! These things are dramatic and easy to relate to and I think have enough emotional impact to drive the plot of a book. But as you know if you have read the book - early on we realize the characters are driven to these behaviors indirectly because of not one but two deaths.Blergh. I'd like to read a book once in a while that DOESN'T have a child die in it. It is exhausting and I just really would like to see a new plot device. There are so many other things that can happen to a person in their life - I hate constantly playing and replaying the worst possible scenerio which for me is such a hideous thing to be forced to contemplate again and again.
  • (4/5)
    This is a story a bout a woman in crisis. No.. it's more than that. This is a story abouta family in crisis. Well, it is more than that, too. I better start over. Betty and Susannah are two women, born a generation and a continent apart come together in a little tiny bit of paradise. Betty, the older, long ago came to terms with her life. With what she expected, wanted in fact, and what it became. She was content. She had all she needed and all, she realized, that she really wanted. Susannah is in the prime of her life, and is raising her two son and her daughter, loving them andprotecting them. Perhaps she was protecting them a little too much, or maybe it was not quite enough?How does any mother know? When Susannah's daughter Katie seemed to always be in trouble, and her son Quinn always seemed to be unhappy, she felt it was time to take a stand and try to put things right. Her husband Matt accused her of running away from her troubles, but she felt that she was running towards an answer for them all. But she found that it wasn't so easy to find answers on her own. It was luck, or perhaps Divine Intervention that took her to Sounder Island. On Sounder she found friends, strength and relief of pain she had carried with her for most of her life.This is a soft and gentle read, perfect for a summer afternoon. Recommended for those who are fans of this genre, or those who just need a gentle read.
  • (3/5)
    I wonder if all of these characters were say, living in San Francisco, they would interact, develop, fall in love in the manner that is forced by the isolation of an island with such mystical forces. I felt like this was a story about people quick to change and also slow to change. While I found some of them engaging, I found others down right Boring. Thus the 3 stars. A Simple Thing would have gotten less stars, but there were parts that I found entertaining. Thanks for the read.
  • (3/5)
    Susannah Delaney has worried herself sick over her children; her son is Verminophobia with a social anxiety disorder and her daughter is just a normal teenager. Suzanne's fears relate back to the death of her baby sister in a boating accident and believes to keep her children save she must remove them from the evils of suburbia. She decides to move to an isolated, rustic island off the coast of Washington State where she rents a cabin from Betty Pavalak who came to the island of Sounder 50 years ago to save her marriage. Betty and Susannah become friends and share their years of guilty feelings.Susannah is emotionally out of control and a character which readers will want to shake and tell her "to get over it" and seek professional help. If the book's only focus was Susannah, I may have given up on the book but Betty's story was touching and romantic. Being a women of her generation, I understand her life's decisions. Ms. McCleary's writing will keep you reading this story of two women who only want the best for their children.