I can’t believe it took me so long to read this book. It’s going on a decade old now! Let me tell you, this book has the perfect title. The entire book is strange and beautiful in the best way. First I want to start by saying that I find books like this kind of difficult to review. My thoughts aren’t nearly so clear-cut. They are a jumble, and it goes way beyond character/plot/writing. That is to the book’s credit, but it’s much more difficult for me to put into words because it’s all about how cohesive this work truly is. How do you describe all the various layers that make things fall into place so perfectly?
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a multi-generational family saga following the women of the Roux family. Romantic love has never served the Roux women well, so when Ava is born her mother and grandmother desire to keep the young girl sheltered from the evils of the world. Ava is a beautiful winged creature, one which they are sure the outside world will not understand. Every single character in this book has a very high importance, and they are each rich and compelling in their own unique way. If I did a deep dive into the complexity of each this would become a dissertation, and I doubt you all want that.
As with any young girl her age, Ava desires independence and freedom. She wants to fly but has always been told she can’t. This is heavily symbolic of how parents transfer their own pain to their children in the form of control, reducing the amount of experience the children are allowed so as to save them the pain they themselves experienced younger in life. Give them wings but then tell them they can’t fly. In trying to protect them, the parents unwittingly strip their children of the knowledge and the courage to protect themselves. Pain helps us learn how to get up. Ava could never learn how to fly if she’s never allowed to fall. In any other book, that could be an extremely heavy-handed metaphor, but it isn’t for this one. Walton wields it expertly, weaving it into the story through her finely tuned use of magical realism.
Books like this remind me of art from the impressionist movement. Like those paintings, the brush strokes blend together, understated lyrical language that’s totally void of pretension. There’s an atmospheric, hazy quality but the image when seen from a distance is perfectly clear. It’s only after you’ve viewed it in its entirety that you truly understand what the creator is trying to convey. You think about it for days and marvel at how just one body of work could contain so much meaning and depth.
I’m not sure if that makes any sense whatsoever, but it’s what came to mind after reflecting on this book. I think this impressionistic quality is also why I felt like the story took place much earlier than it actually did. It spans from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, but it has such a classic romantic era literature feel, which I love. There’s so much heartbreak, which makes this an incredibly difficult read in certain places. As a matter of fact, the book takes a shockingly violent turn near the end, which some readers may find too traumatic, especially considering it is such a blindside.
Lastly, I want to address the ending. No, I won’t spoil it, but I will mention that this is one of those endings that is up to interpretation. Frankly, I like books like that. However, I know some readers hate it. It’s a fabulous discussion point for book clubs. This book sparked the kind of interesting and thoughtful discussion we hadn’t experienced in Read Between the Wines for a while. We stayed on topic almost the whole time! Usually things kind of go off the rails, especially after the wine or margaritas hit.
In short, this book is a thing of beauty and a crowning achievement for Leslye Walton. What’s more impressive is this was her debut novel. What a way to begin a literary career! I loved it and will retain this story within my brain for years to come.
Published March 27, 2014 by Candlewick Press. ISBN 9780763665661. Hardcover. 301 pages.