Who do you want to be? How will you get there? Women often explore these questions more deeply than men. Claudia Goodwin, who shares my last name and my sense that pieces of my life are missing, is the fictitious narrator of Robin Gaines memorable and stirring fiction debut, Invincible Summers. Written in Claudia's voice and covering several summers in the sixties and seventies, the novel digs into Claudia's psyche with the depth of any well-crafted memoir.
We start when Claudia sees the world through six-year-old eyes. She is on a car ride with Mommy and Daddy. Everything seems right though she has niggling doubts in the pit of her stomach when she listens to her parents talk and hears Mommy and Grandma arguing. In the next story, told when she is ten, her father dies.
Her brother, Burke, and she both struggle, as if the courage and confidence their parents were trying to instill is disintegrating inside them. If you want to assign blame it could go to the loss of their father; or their mother's grief; or Uncle Wade, who is recently out of prison; or StepRoy, the man mom marries; or a multitude of other factors make them feel rootless. Or it could simply go to the lack of communication created by this unspeakable void.
What matters is how they try to live and cope with the emptiness that surrounds them and how they try to fill the holes created by their dad's unexpected death. They are clothed, sheltered, and fed, but they are missing the emotional nourishment that helps children become confident, productive people. Claudia's pursuit to find a purpose is particularly poignant when juxtaposed against two Kennedy assassinations, the Vietnam War, and her need to flee the guilt and responsibility she feels for her father's death, her mother's career-altering disfiguration, and her brother's downslide into drugs and alcohol.
I did not lose my father until I was 33 but it's easy for me to relate to Claudia and Burke, who know something is missing, but cannot label the problem, much less fix it. Gaines has created the angst, loss, and frustration her characters must cope with and sprinkled it with unexpected humor and discoveries. She is an experienced journalist as well as a skilled novelist. Her writing is honest and authentic. We feel like we are inside Claudia's head, seeing the world through her eyes. SCN readers and others will love this story.
Robin Gaines is an award winning journalist and fiction writer. Her work has appeared in literary journals, newspapers, magazines, and anthologies. Invincible Summers is her first novel. She lives in Michigan. Visit her website.
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