Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-236100-4
Trade paperback, $14.99, 290 pages
Christina Baker Kline's novel, Orphan Train, is still on the New York Times bestseller list over a year after its publication. It tells the story of a teenage girl, living with a foster family, who meets an elderly woman and finds that the woman was sent from New York City to the Midwest on an orphan train as a young child.
Kline's backlist is being rereleased, and I recently read Sweet Water. Like Orphan Train, it tells the story of two women who don't know each other- Cassie Simon, and her grandmother, called Clyde.
Cassie leaves her home in New York City after she receives information from a lawyer in Tennessee that her grandfather has died and left her his house and 60 acres of land.
Her life in New York is stressful. She works at a gallery and dates the gallery owner who has a wandering eye. She would like a chance to work on her sculptures, and this will give her the opportunity to start over.
Cassie's mother Ellen died in a car accident when Cassie was just three years old. Her grandfather was driving the van, and he was drunk at the time. Cassie's father took her away and she hasn't seen her mother's family since then.
Cassie alternates the narration with her grandmother Clyde. Clyde's part of the story goes back and forth in time, and we learn that she has a secret- a few of them, actually. We see Clyde as a young woman, a pastor's daughter who yearns to break free who meets a handsome piano player named Amory Clyde who sweeps her off her feet.
Clyde and Amory have three children- Horace, Ellen and Elaine. Amory spends much of his time working, and Clyde is left alone with the children. She is lonely and has few friends until she meets Bryce, an exciting, vibrant woman with a secret.
Horace and Elaine had hoped to inherit their father's land, and are mistrustful of Cassie. Why would she come back to Tennessee, to a place she doesn't know to family she never met, to live in a rundown house? Why doesn't she just sell it to them?
Cassie works on the house, and comes to like the town of Sweet Water. She works on her sculptures during the day and works at a bar at night. She even meets a guy, though he has a secret of his own.
The mystery of why Amory left his land to Cassie revolves around the death of Ellen and something that happened a few days prior to Ellen's death. Clyde seems to be hiding this all from Cassie, and Cassie is determined to find out what she is hiding.
Kline vividly creates the small town of Sweet Water, with its coffee shop, town park and resident busybodies. Anyone who has lived in small town will find it familiar.
The Clyde family dynamic is interesting too. The sibling and cousin relationships ring true, and the family dinner scene and the girls night out felt like the reader was right there in the middle of it all. (I'm a sucker for a good family dinner scene.)
Kline has some great lines in the book. Cassie is complaining to her father that her life in New York is ordinary, that she is just "filling a little space I've carved out for myself." Her father reminds her that that is what life is, no matter she may live.
When Cassie gives Clyde a ceramic bowl she made, Cassie gives Clyde several suggestions for things to put in it. Clyde asks why she has to put anything it it, and Cassie says "I don't know why, but I always think I have to fill things up." Clyde replies, "I used to feel that way. Now I guess I like things empty." I love that exchange, it tells you a lot about Cassie and Clyde.
In the end, I liked Clyde better than Cassie, and I felt much the same about the characters in Orphan Train. The older woman's story resonated more than the young teen. After reading this, I have come to the conclusion it is because the older women have more of a story to tell having lived a longer life.
Sweet Water will please fans of Orphan Train. It has a fascinating family story, interesting characters and lots of secrets to uncover.
rating 4 of 5
Christina Baker Kline's website is here.
My review of Orphan Train is here.
My blog post on Christina Baker Kline in conversation with Caroline Leavitt at the Center For Fiction is here.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Christina Baker Kline's tour. The rest of the stops are here.
Christina’s Tour Stops
Monday, July 28th: Bound by Words
Tuesday, August 5th: Jorie Love a Story
Thursday, August 7th: bookchickdi
Friday, August 8th: Kahakai Kitchen
Monday, August 11th: A Bookish Way of Life
Tuesday, August 12th: Bibliotica