four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-The CradleOriginally from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Patrick Somerville seems poised to take an honored place among other contemporary Midwestern writers such as Annie Proulx and Charles Baxter. His debut short story collection, Trouble, was named by Time Out Chicago as the best book by a Chicago writer in 2006. The Cradle is his first novel.

The Story: In the summer of 1997, Marissa Bishop, eight months pregnant with their first child, asks her husband to hunt down the antique cradle her mother took when she abandoned Marissa and her father ten years earlier. Devoted to his wife, Matt sets out across the Midwest with a single clue from his father-in-law. A decade later in Chicago, famous children’s author Renee Owen copes with memories of her first love, a soldier who died in Vietnam. There is also a secret she has kept from her husband of 20 years as their son leaves for a tour of duty in Iraq. Both Matt and Renee find they must confront the past to address its lingering hold on the present.
Little, Brown. 208 pages. $21.99. ISBN: 0316036129

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Somerville’s surprisingly tender novel retains the elegant economy and sense of mystery that distinguished the short stories in his 2006 collection, Trouble. … What matters are Somerville’s characters, rendered with such warm appreciation of their complexity and resilience that, although he declines to predict their future, we have every reason to hope they will continue making slow, tentative progress toward healing the wounds of the past." Wendy Smith

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Patrick Somerville’s debut novel, The Cradle, is a lovely, finely wrought tale of unlikely redemption. … Somerville has many gifts, not the least of which is the ability to sketch his characters with firm strokes that leave no doubt as to their distinct and varied humanity." Robin Vidimos

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It would be better to recommend The Cradle, a deeply gratifying modern fable, than to reveal too much about its plot. … As a small novel with unexpectedly wide range, The Cradle mixes the profound emotional pull of parent-child connections with comically eccentric touches." Janet Maslin

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"The scope of the story indicates that many hours of imaginative sweat went into the production of this lean, moving tale. Happily, The Cradle emerges swift and cinematic, an epic story told in a series of artfully curated, wonderfully rendered scenes." Dean Bakopoulos

South FL Sun-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"In the end, virtue, patience and hard-won honesty prevail and vital connections are forged. This is a fine first effort and a rewarding read." Carole Goldberg

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Sometimes Matt’s dialogue doesn’t ring true as that of a high school-educated factory worker, and occasionally Somerville’s humor is strained. Still, this novel will propel the career of a fine young novelist who has 30 years to develop into the writer that Charles Baxter is." Joseph Peschel

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Despite its flaws, among them time sequences that might be better delineated or characters who say things like ‘You’re totally not into this,’ ‘I do strange,’ or, as a family condescends to enter a Dunkin’ Donuts, ‘I’m no anti-donutist,’ this novel marks a heartwarming debut. The Cradle is a fast-paced, compassionate, moral book, whose main character’s troubled past emboldens him to help others." Anthony Bukoski

Critical Summary

Critics uniformly praised Somerville’s moving debut about the meaning of family and its power to heal. Somerville’s spare but buoyant prose strikes the right emotional balance, expressive without being sentimental, and his fast-moving plot steers steadily between the profound and the whimsical toward a satisfying conclusion without ever veering into melodrama. Despite a few flaws—some awkward narrative shifts, one-dimensional characters, and clichés—The Cradle is a finely crafted full-length novel skillfully condensed into just over 200 pages. "As a writer, I’m still wondering how Somerville created this exquisitely complex story on such a small canvas," noted the New York Times Book Review critic. "As a reader, I’m glad he did."