Ever since the late wife died, I've had a hard time reading fiction where the main character is a widow or widower. Thought the authors try hard, most of them don't do a good job of capturing what it's like to lose a spouse. Oh sure, most of them do a good job describing the sense of loss and grief that accompanies the death of a spouse, but when it comes to the internal emptiness that comes with it, most of them fall short.
So when I learned that Gail Graham's latest novel, Sea Changes, was about a widow living in Australia who is struggling to move on with her life two years after her husband's death, I was tempted to pass on the book without even reading it. The last thing I wanted was wade through page after page of self-pity.
Thankfully, I decided to give the book a chance.
Sea Changes is about American expatriate Sarah Andrews. She lives alone in a small house. She's mostly estranged from her two children. Despite living in Australia for thirty-some-odd years she still hasn't adjusted to life in Sydney. She stays in Australia only because her daughter lives there. Sarah's only real human contact comes from weekly therapy sessions with a psychologist named Kahn. Despite seeing him for nearly two years, he's been of little help. Most of her therapy sessions involve her talking and Kahn saying very little and abruptly ending the sessions on time.
Thinking that life holds little purpose for her, Sarah decides to swim far enough out to sea that she'll be too tired to return and drown. But as her strength fails her, a girl names Bantryd appears and takes her to an underwater world. Later Sarah wakes up on the beach and wonders if everything she has just experienced was a dream. The incident prompts a change in Sarah. She begins to see more of a purpose in the world. She also is determined to find out if the underwater world she visited was real or simply her imagination.
Graham does a great job of capturing the feelings that come years after losing a spouse. However, she's smart enough not to make widowhood the focus of her story. Instead the story is really about the journey that comes when life suddenly changes. It's about rebirth and learning that even when we're left alone in the world, there are people and places waiting to be discovered if only we take a step out of our day-to-day routines.
In fact, the most satisfying part of the book was seeing how Sarah finally became her own woman and changed from a woman who saw no purpose in life to one where she wasn't going to let anyone tell her what to do. And the best part? The book had the one of the best ending to a novel that come across in years. It doesn't matter if you've never lost a spouse or never read a fantasy novel in your entire life. Graham has written a beautiful novel that will stay with me for years.
5 stars (out of five) for the unforgettable book Sea Changes.