Book Review: The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry

the stories we tellReviewer: Allie

One late night, a policeman shows up at Eve Morrison’s door to deliver some terrible news.  Eve’s husband Copper and her sister Willa were involved in a car accident that lands them both in the hospital.  Eve goes to wake her daughter, Gwen, only to discover she’s snuck out – again.  All is not well in Eve’s magazine-picture perfect life.

Understandably, Eve is very upset and confused about the accident.  She has many questions and Cooper’s answers don’t satisfy her.  Unfortunately, Willa has sustained a brain injury that has all but erased her memories of the accident.  Just when Eve decides to accept that events happened as Cooper claims, she begins receiving mysterious mail.  Then a newspaper reporter starts calling, a dead body is found near the scene of the accident and Willa reveals that she’s having weird dreams.

The accident and its ramifications are not the only drama in Eve’s life.  Her daughter is seriously rebelling and Eve is unsure of how to help her, especially since she feels that their family stresses are contributing to the behavior.  Eve’s only solace is her work at Fine Line Ink, a letter press shop she created.  Her friends Max and Francine offer their support, but they too have questions.  Will Eve have the courage to discover the truth?

The plot of this story has it all – family drama, sibling rivalry, mid-life marital stress, unrequited love, teenage angst and a mystery to boot!  So much going on, yet all of it is relatable.  Eve is a character I understand.  Her internal conflicts are familiar to any woman who’s been married for a long time, raised children (teenagers, especially) and experienced the guilt that accompanies wanting something outside of her role as wife and mother.  Callahan is a gifted writer with lyrical prose and water colored imagery that will make the reader stop and re-read a passage, because – “wow.”  This particular novel is about stories.  We have the stories we tell others that bend the truth and create the illusion of a perfect life.  We have the stories of our past that haunt us with the truth of where we came from.  We have the stories we tell ourselves, to excuse feelings we shouldn’t have.  There are the stories we tell to protect our families.  And then we have stories we tell to teach a lesson or to help someone we love see the truth.

In addition to the use of story-telling (the art of letter press and notecards to illustrate this was genius), the book dives deeply into the mysteries of memory.  I found this to be the most fascinating part and it really resonated with me.  Memory is an intangible, a puzzling mix of physiology and complex human emotion.  We all have memories and we mold them in a variety of ways – to protect us, to give us comfort and to write our own history – our story.  Can you imagine if one day your memories were gone?

I will remember this story for a long, long time.  I loved it!

Hear an excerpt from the audiobook! 

5 stars

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