Patrick Somerville’s First Novel

And my first Patrick Somerville! I thought I’d run with this with the firsts-themed week, so book #22 was The Cradle by Somerville. I absolutely loved it. It was one of those novels that depends on a lot of small twists and intertwining plot lines, and those are so much better when you discover them for yourself as you read. So I’m going to try really hard not to ruin anything, and then you should all go read it. It’s only 200 pages! (Read: you have no excuse.)

Also quick fun fact about this author/book: back in 2012 I was lucky enough to intern for the Iowa City Book Festival during the spring/summer; the event now takes place in October, and I’d highly recommend it. Anyway, Patrick Somerville was one of the authors who came to the festival and read. He had been promoting his more recent book, This Bright River which I have yet to read, but I did get to briefly meet him and he signed my copy of The Cradle. I always feel more important when the book I’m reading is autographed.

None of this has to do with the book I just finished, really, so sorry. The Cradle though: it was so great. Again, it was only 200 pages so it was a quick read but that didn’t make it any less meaningful. Far from it actually, and I’m almost more impressed with the novel now, considering how attached and completely swept up in the story I became in only 200 pages. That’s hard to do, and some authors can’t even get it done in 500+ page books.

The novel drops you right in the middle of the action, which was cool and jarring. Our main character (Matt Bishop) is sent on a spur of the moment quest by is 8-month-pregnant-wife to track down her childhood cradle. She refuses to raise her nearly-birthed baby in anything else. The problem is that Matt’s wife (Marissa Bishop) doesn’t know where the cradle is, and has no solid way of figuring it out. After Marissa’s mother walked out on her when she was young, and a subsequent break-in resulting in the loss of mostly all her mother’s things (presumably a heist by her mother or an accomplice), all ties to said mother were understandably severed.

So Matt feels he has no choice but to humor his very pregnant wife and set out to find the cradle. He has a wry way of looking at all the situations in the book, and was an easy character to fall in love with. Him and Marissa as a couple, too, were perfect. They reminded me of those couples who are so compatible that it’s borderline uncomfortable. Those couples who inspire a weird mix of intense jealousy and hopelessness mixed with genuine happiness for them, knowing they don’t even need happiness from anyone else because they have each other. (Clearly, these couples inspire a lot of complicated feelings.)

So that was one awesome part of the book, to so easily get behind these imperfect, pretty irrational characters as a reader. The other really great part was the story, which I’m going to try to talk about as vaguely as possible. There’s another set of main characters in The Cradle, who are introduced and experienced in some scattered chapters, taking place about a decade later than the Matt-searching-for-the-cradle plot line. This part was so awesome, because it’s unclear what this totally separate set of characters has to do with the Bishops or this stupid cradle. Slowly, details or names or flashbacks reveal loose ties, keeping the reader guessing and desperately trying to fill in the blanks.

Or at least that’s how it was for me. I absolutely love books like that, and it will always be satisfying when you either draw the correct lines and find out that your guesses are accurate, or even if you guessed wrong, witnessing it all resolve in that unfolding way is the greatest.

So props to Patrick Somerville, thanks for signing my book and writing it. As always, it makes me want to read more by him. The content in The Cradle was really complex – family, childhood, human nature, the meaning of life, other casual topics. But Somerville’s writing is so straightforward, it makes these thoughts not seem so daunting. He also has a suspenseful way of writing, and I’m not sure exactly how he did it or what specifically made it suspenseful.

It’s good, though. That’s my eloquent summary/takeaway. ◊

She was them. That was the deepest truth. Children played a game, and their whole world was caught up inside it, the whole range of happiness and sadness. There was absolutely nothing outside their own world, and that’s what let them be what they were. And she knew, walking home, that if she had to choose, if she had to say I am this or I am that, I am those children playing in the grass, or I am my parents, or I am all the other people in the world, I am them. I am the children playing in the grass. I am not some other thing. And if she was that, how could she have a child of her own?”

– page 183

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