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After The Fire by Belva Plain - Book Review

Title
Author
Publisher

After The Fire
Belva Plain
Dell Publishing Company

Fiction-Net Rating 4 Star Rated Book

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Cover Story

What happens when the picture perfect marriage dissolves?

In her stunning new novel, New York Times best-selling author Belva Plain penetrates a shattered marriage to explore one of the most provocative issues of our time. Once again, Belva Plain proves herself the writer who sets the standard for family stories in a novel that is at once harrowing and deeply moving.

Gerald and Hyacinth had the kind of marriage others envied. She was a beautiful artist. He was a brilliant plastic surgeon. Theirs was a comfortable, happy home with two wonderful children. Then whispers of betrayal tainted Hy's perfect marriage and in one terrible night she commits an act she will regret for the rest of her life. An act that gives Gerald the ultimate weapon: blackmail. The price of his silence is uncontested custody of their two children. When her own beautiful, angry mother wants to know why she won't fight for custody, Hy can find no answers. But deep in her heart, Hy knows there is one question that she must answer if she wants to free herself from a life of lies: what really happened that terrible night? Only then can she reclaim her children, her pride, her life - at last.

We Say

No matter how we may feel about it, divorce is common in our society. Often the individuals who suffer the most are the children. The plight of children surviving the divorce of their parents has been the subject of much discussion and debate. Although some couples manage an amicable separation, others use their children as pawns to get what they want. Discord among parents is not a new theme but, in Belva Plain's novel, After the Fire, Plain takes this theme to an unusual and heartbreaking level.

In After the Fire, we are introduced to a woman who is forced to give up her children when she is divorced from her husband. While society may view absentee fathers as the norm, a mother who gives up custody of her children is often castigated. This is the issue that drew me to this novel. How could any mother give up her children? After some terrible act that Hyacinth, the main character, commits she is forced by her estranged husband to give up custody of their two children. What could be so unforgivable that her husband uses the incident as blackmail to gain sole custody of their children?

While we know from the beginning that Hyacinth is doomed to suffer the loss of her children, the story unfolds with painful foreboding. Plain takes her reader along a journey where each step brings her character closer to certain doom. Not unlike the Greek tragedies, the reader can see that the choices Hyacinth makes, condemns her despite the best efforts of all who love her. The desire to shake Hyacinth until she realises the mistake she is making in marrying Gerald is at times uncontrollable. What evolves is a story full of the same subtle manipulations that Gerald is so adroit at using against Hyacinth.

Belva Plain demonstrates that although we would like to think that life is a fairy tale, real life is often unfair and cruel. Although some things that happen to Hyacinth are a little far fetched, the main issues of betrayal are very close to reality. What makes this novel so engaging is the fact that things like this do happen to good people, both men and women and that is a terrifying thought. It is almost impossible for a good person to deal with a person who lacks any conscience. How can you fight someone who doesn't fight fair or forces you to consider doing things that are completely against all that you believe in?

After The Fire is not just about the consequences of divorce. It is a novel about power and one man's need to have complete control. Physical abuse is absent but the remaining mental abuse is just as damaging. Gerald lacks any sense of what is right and the result is that Hyacinth suffers. Plain has done an excellent job creating a woman who struggles to correct what she believes is an unforgivable mistake.

After the Fire threatened to overwhelm me at times. It may make you take a second look at your own choices in life. Who do you give power over yourself? Do you really see your partner, or do you only see what you want to? How does one survive after being betrayed by someone you love so dearly? Belva Plain recounts Hyacinth's tale with clarity and insight, making this a novel worth reading.

Review by: Yumi Nagasaki-Taylor

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