Sixteen-year-old Sally Werner gives birth to a baby boy in the summer of 1947 and leaves him on the table in her parent’s house not 48 hours after giving birth. And so she begins the habit of running away which will follows her, causing her to change the outcome of her life in ways that she can’t begin to imagine. Flitting through a series of incarnations as Sally Angel, Sally Mole, and finally Sally Bliss, Sally follows the Tuskee River north through a series of small towns where ever the optimist, she tries to grow and make a better life for herself while obsessed with sending money back home to help in raising her baby boy.
Even though Sally meets with a number of good people who help to buoy her inherent optimism and belief in herself, she also continues to be haunted by not only the mistakes of her path and the baby that she left behind but the more current problems that she has with the father of her second child, a daughter whom she names after friend Penelope. Her past finally catches up with her when she receives a visit a person she never though she would see again, but when she decides to find and face the truth, will she do more harm than good?
Joanna Scott’s writing is intriguing and I really liked the way that she constructs her character driven novel, illustrating the consequences that family secrets and running away can have over the course of several people’s lives. Weaving back and forth through time, the story is told through several points of view, though the overarching narrator of the story is Sally’s granddaughter and namesake Sally. She is the one who pieces together all of the different perspectives to put together the complete story of what happened between her grandmother, mother and father.
Sally starts her story in the middle, on the night when her father jumps off of a bridge and into the rain swollen Tuskee River. When he inexplicably doesn’t drown, he leaves town the next day abandoning his pregnant girlfriend, whom he had planned to marry. Over the course of the novel different characters share their pieces of the puzzle through conversations, letters and cassette tapes. I was fully absorbed in the differences between their voices loved the way the pictures I had of their lives expanded with each additional piece of information that came to light. Most of the story was told from the perspective of Sally’s grandmother, Sally Bliss, who is struggling to deal with her the demons of giving up her child, and reconciling what she has done with the strict way that she was raised by her immigrant German parents. She spends her lifetime not only trying to make amends monetarily and by doing the right thing but in looking for forgiveness.
There were a few places in Sally Bliss’ narrative where I had trouble with the stream of consciousness style that pops up with Sally, and the voices in her head- it was slow going for me in some spots, but this was balanced by the richness of her character and it helped me understand the nuances to her and why she ultimately acted in the way she did. Everything revolves around her and the other character had no alternative but to live their lives as a result of her choices. There was so much about her to empathize with- she dealt with so much that was difficult in her life, but at the same time you really want her to get it together as you slowly start to trace the damage that is being done to so many of her loved ones.
This was an absorbing novel with a wonderful mystery at its heart. I really got to know Sally Bliss before I was plunged into the intrigue, and as it all started to come together I couldn’t wait to see what unfolded. I think that fans of character driven stories who also like a good mystery will really enjoy this one.