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THE GLASS FOREST
by Cynthia Swanson
Touchstone, February 2018
338 pages
$25.99
ISBN: 1501172093


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Told through the stories of the three women most affected by them, the plot of THE GLASS FOREST is based on the psychopathology of brothers Paul and Henry Glass after WWII. Silja, Henry's wife; Ruby, his daughter; and Angie, Paul's wife, deal with the men's manipulation in different ways, each consistent with her age and the times. In the process, the underbelly of suburban society during the 40s, 50s, and early 60s is exposed.

Silja meets Henry, marries quickly and becomes pregnant just before he is shipped off to serve in WWII. When he returns, wounded and with what we now know of as PTSD, the idyllic life she had imagined is slowly revealed as impossible. Ruby, her daughter, is presented to us mainly as a teenager in 1960 when Henry dies, though she is a participant in Silja's developing story line. Angie, Paul's very young wife, also enters the story at Henry's death, and her narrative makes it clear that the Glass brothers' psychological troubles may have a different source than the influence of the war. Each woman's story is told through alternating short chapters, some as short as a page, a device that works very well to dole out plot details and keep the reader reading.

In the process of trying to figure out what happened to Silja and whether Henry committed suicide as was first thought, we come to know the three women extremely well, while Henry and Paul remain slightly more two-dimensional. Swanson provides a sympathetic male character as well, however, avoiding having the book become a negative statement on men in general. Besides being a compelling psychological thriller, the book is an examination of the dangers inherent in the gender roles assigned to women in the 40s and 50s. In addition to writing thoroughly developed characters and bringing a specific time in history to life, Swanson writes convincingly of the claustrophobic suburban landscape of the East and the more open vistas of the lake country in the Midwest, and the effects that these different visual perspectives can have on mindset.

The depth of this book may suggest that the mystery plot falls short, but this far from true. The narrative, moving as it does from time period to time period and character to character provides clues and twists along the way as we attempt to understand what happened to Silja and Henry, and what role each of the characters may have played. In the end, the resolution is satisfying and the epilogue provides hope.

This is the second book by Swanson, with her first, THE BOOKSELLER having been an award-winning bestseller. I missed that one but will certainly head back to it now.

Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in rural Wyoming.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, April 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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