Review of ‘The Road Home’ by Erin Zak
Gwendolyn Carter has spent the last seventeen years hating her mother for all the ways she’s put her down as she was growing up and, most of all, for her terrible response when she discovered her only daughter was a lesbian. Summoned home for her dad’s birthday, Gwendolyn is faced with multiple challenges. Not only is her mother sick and probably dying, Gwendolyn has to get along with the woman who, to all intents and purposes, took her place in the household, becoming Carol’s new daughter, her best friend, and her colleague. To top it all, David, Gwendolyn’s father, her hero, turns out to not be such a great guy after all.
I have so many feelings about this book, I’m not sure where to start. Maybe with acknowledging how brave it is of Erin Zak to have written this story about grief. This isn’t simply a work of imagination. It’s wonderfully written but what makes it so moving is how raw it feels, how real. I don’t know if I would be able to revisit such a heart-wrenching experience as losing a parent and come out with something so beautiful.
In addition to the grief the characters start preparing themselves to, and already face as soon as they learn Carol’s cancer remission, Erin Zak describes with delicate brush strokes all that’s complex in mother/daughter relationships, the resentment, the love, the admiration, the need for validation. As Gwendolyn re-evaluates her own behaviour and her reactions to her mother’s behaviour, she opens herself to something new and magnificent, as she allows herself to see Lila, her mother’s surrogate daughter, for who she is and not the person Gwendolyn has refused to even imagine liking.
The attraction is undeniable, inconvenient, and breathtaking. The chemistry between the two women is tremendous, and I love how they deal with the notion that they’re both Carol’s daughters, yet not, and the potential creepiness. I love that they have such a hard time resisting and I love the moment they decide to give in. And while the romance arc is awesome, each and every relationship of the story is complex and layered, whether it’s Gwendolyn’s relationship to her parents, to her best friend, to volleyball, to her career as an actress in Hollywood, or Carol and David’s marriage, Lila’s relationship with both Carol and David, with the volleyball players she coaches. Every one of them is full of little things that make them genuine and plausible.
Erin Zak is one of those authors I kinda missed, for some reason. The first of her books I read was Beautiful Accidents last year, and, for me, it was 5* all the way. I think I loved this one even more…