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Book Review: ‘The Taste of Air’ keeps you guessing



For The Recorder
Friday, April 21, 2017

“The Taste of Air” by Gail Cleare (Red Adept Publishing, 252 pages, $13.99)

Family relationships, choices, and secrets are at the heart of “The Taste of Air.” This engrossing novel by Gail Cleare of Whately begins when Nell Williams receives a phone call that informs her that her mother Mary Ellen Reilly is seriously ill in a hospital in Vermont.

Nell is alarmed — and confused. Her mother is strong and healthy, and she lives in a senior-living community in Massachusetts. As far as Nell knows, Mary Ellen had no plans to visit Vermont.

Nell can’t even figure out how her mother could have gotten to Vermont; Mary Ellen is supposed to have given up driving and sold her car.

Nell quickly makes arrangements for her husband and children’s care and drives from her New Jersey home to the hospital in Vermont. There she discovers that her mother has been living a secret second life for years.

Mary owns a charming small home in a quaint New England town and is apparently very close to her neighbors.

Nell’s sister Bridget soon arrives in Vermont to help out, and the sisters begin to solve the mystery of their mother’s Vermont home and Vermont life.

Cleare carefully weaves her story back and forth from three perspectives. Some chapters adopt Nell’s or Bridget’s point of view. Others tell Mary Ellen’s story through the years, starting with meeting her future husband as a nurse on her way to serve in Vietnam.

Slowly, Nell and Bridget come to understand the reasons behind their mother’s decision to seek sanctuary in Vermont. Bridget is on the lam from a failed marriage and is eager to try something new. Nell comes to realize that she, too, is dissatisfied with parts of her daily existence.

As they confront the past and the present, the sisters begin to make decisions that will make each of them happier without hiding information from their loved ones.

Cleare instantly makes the reader care about her novel’s characters. The book is beautifully constructed, revealing information a little at a time to keep us guessing and reading on.

Mary Ellen, Bridget, and Nell are easy to empathize with — as is the impulse that leads Mary Ellen to seek out her Vermont hideaway. The book’s male characters are less fleshed out than the three protagonists, but this is women’s fiction, after all.

Cleare’s descriptions are vivid, and her story is charming. “The Taste of Air” is the perfect book to take along on a vacation — or peruse while sitting by the woodstove on a cool day.

Cleare is also the writer, editor, and publisher of the book “Remember Boston.” This photo book highlighted Douglas Potoksky’s images of memorial tributes to the bombings that shook Boston and the world in April 2013 on the day of the Boston Marathon.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” Visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.