I received this book for review consideration from the publisher, via Shelf Awareness for Readers. All opinions are my own.The Ramblers
Written by Aidan Donnelley Rowley
Published by William Morrow on February 9th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Family Life
For fans of J. Courtney Sullivan, Meg Wolitzer, Claire Messud, and Emma Straub, a gorgeous and absorbing novel of a trio of confused souls struggling to find themselves and the way forward in their lives, set against the spectacular backdrop of contemporary New York City.
Set in the most magical parts of Manhattan—the Upper West Side, Central Park, Greenwich Village—The Ramblers explores the lives of three lost souls, bound together by friendship and family. During the course of one fateful Thanksgiving week, a time when emotions run high and being with family can be a mixed blessing, Rowley’s sharply defined characters explore the moments when decisions are deliberately made, choices accepted, and pasts reconciled.
Clio Marsh, whose bird-watching walks through Central Park are mentioned in New York Magazine, is taking her first tentative steps towards a relationship while also looking back to the secrets of her broken childhood. Her best friend, Smith Anderson, the seemingly-perfect daughter of one of New York’s wealthiest families, organizes the lives of others as her own has fallen apart. And Tate Pennington has returned to the city, heartbroken but determined to move ahead with his artistic dreams.
Rambling through the emotional chaos of their lives, this trio learns to let go of the past, to make room for the future and the uncertainty and promise that it holds. The Ramblers is a love letter to New York City—an accomplished, sumptuous novel about fate, loss, hope, birds, friendship, love, the wonders of the natural world and the mysteries of the human spirit.
An advance copy of this book was provided by Shelf Awareness to facilitate a compensated review. Because the submission deadline was missed, this review has not been previously published and was not compensated.
I’ve been following Aidan Donnelley Rowley’s blog for years. Her perspectives on family and literary life in New York City have an undeniably Upper West Side slant. They’re also thoughtful, reflective, revealing and open–Donnelley isn’t afraid to go deep and be direct. I still haven’t gotten around to reading her first novel, Life After Yes, but I grabbed at the chance to read her second, The Ramblers. I’m sorry I didn’t read it in time to submit the review to Shelf Awareness, because it would have gotten a lot more notice there…but I do want people to notice this novel. The Ramblers was my favorite reading experience of 2016 so far.
Clio Marsh, Smith Anderson, and Tate Pennington were all classmates at Yale. Clio and Smith have been roommates for well over a decade–first in college, then in an apartment in the famed high-rise near Central Park where Smith’s family lives, and from which she runs The Order of Things, her personal-organizing business. Since earning her doctorate in ornithology at Columbia, Clio has worked as a curator at the Museum of Natural History and leads weekend bird-watching walks through the Ramble in Central Park. Tate wasn’t really on either woman’s radar back in their university days, but he’s recently returned to the East Coast after selling the photo app he developed with a college friend, and after he and Smith encounter each other at a Yale tailgate party one November weekend, they’re both on each other’s.
But both Smith and Tate are in relationship recovery mode–she’s still coping with the emotional fallout of a broken engagement as she prepares for her sister’s wedding, and his divorce isn’t exactly final yet. Clio’s got her own fallout to sort through. Her recent panic attack at the prospect of moving in with her boyfriend is the legacy of a lifetime of anxiety in dealing with her bipolar mother, who committed suicide a year earlier…and she has yet to tell Henry about any of it.
The preppy character names and Ivy League references might be a little off-putting to some readers–I’ll admit they made even me a little nervous, and fiction about privileged New Yorkers is literary catnip for me. But the people Donnelley depicts in The Ramblers are so much more than “privileged New Yorkers,” They’re struggling with complicated emotions and big, life-affecting choices. Their relationships both challenge and strengthen them, and the characters’ interactions and conversations ring true to life (well, mostly–Smith’s father is a bit of a caricature, but I get the feeling that was intentional on the author’s part).
The Ramblers was an engrossing and highly satisfying novel–fun, thoughtful, and not afraid to go deep. Given what I’ve come to know of its author through her blogging, I’m happy to say it’s very much a novel I would have expected from Aidan Donnelley Rowley.
From Part One, Chapter One
“Clio sits alone at the hotel bar.
“She traces her fingertip around the rim of her empty champagne flute and surveys the aftermath of the party. The lobby and bar are littered with wineglasses and crumpled cocktail napkins, evidence of exuberance and good cheer. Wooden skewers with clinging shreds of chicken satay are tucked here and there. A crimson scarf has been left behind on a velvet chair. Towers of plates wait to be whisked away.
“Henry’s staffers dart about with a quiet efficiency, attacking the mess, transforming chaos back into order. All will be pristine in no time and the Here Inn will sparkle for the first guests, who will check into their rooms in a matter of hours. Henry has done this four times before, and he swears this is the most fun part, when real people arrive toting their literal and metaphorical baggage.”