Thursday, October 29, 2009

'The Road from La Cueva'

by Sheila Ortego
Fiction, 2008
Sunstone Press, pb, 134 p.
Ana Howland is at a crisis point. As a constrained yet passionate woman, she finds few outlets for her desires in her role as mother and wife. She is subsumed by a controlling husband, but is craving her own fulfillment.

Her frustrations find outlet through a friendship with an eccentric neighbor and an affair with a man who respects her and nurtures her spirit and independence. Through hardship and grim determination, she learns to look with her own eyes, to feel with her own heart. She discovers a deep well of resilience and compassion, with room for growth and freedom. Her story is one of a leap of faith, away from despair and toward life at its fullest. Despite all odds, she navigates herself, through small but profound changes, into new ways of living, of relating to her friends, her daughter, herself.
                                                                                  [From the back cover]
This was a beautifully written story of a woman struggling to lead a life of her own choosing, trapped in a marriage by her overbearing, controlling husband but afraid to leave for the sake of their daughter. The story follows Ana as she comes to some realisations about herself and the people around her, and as she essentially learns how to become her own person. The author said in her guest post at Tip of the Iceberg that she “basically used [her] own life as material”, and the story did feel very real and personal.

The author is also a poet, and I think that careful wordsmanship comes through very clearly in her prose. There were some wonderful descriptions throughout, as well as some clever metaphors that beautifully express Ana’s struggle to become free.
He ran his fingers around the rim of the cup. “See how this isn’t even? The Japanese call this 'shibui', the flaw that makes something beautiful. The shape has to have some room, some freedom.” …. “Like with people,” he said, and she nodded.
As an aside, I loved this quote because I, too, admire the natural, 'flawed' beauty often seen in Japanese pottery. We don't have any really fancy dishes but some of my favourites are the ones that we picked up in Mashiko, one of the areas in Japan famous for pottery, quite a few years ago.  Some might consider them rough, and asymmetrical, but I think they're beautiful.
She pictured how he must have looked when he wrote the letter, saw his hands, his chapped, strong, tender hands, as he penned it. … He hadn’t needed to say more. … The words lay cruelly on the thick gray paper.

She imagined him planning it while chopping wood or wedging clay, giving his anger back to the earth, to hold for him. He would hold the anger in while he was at work. It would still be waiting for him when he got home. The anger would sleep with him at night, wrapping itself around his heart like the parasitic mistletoe on the juniper trees. It would reveal itself in the pots he made, in crude, squat stoneware heavy with the weight of their emptiness.
I thoroughly enjoyed this slim novel and in fact, I would’ve been quite happy if it had been longer, but as it is, it’s a touching story with an important message. Namely, that no matter how we have ended up in a situation, whether through our own poor choices or not, we do have the power to change our circumstances, to escape if needed, if only we can find the strength within ourselves to do so. Truly, a lovely little book.

The author is working on her next book, apparently to be set in Canada, and I very much look forward to reading more by Sheila Ortego in the future.

For more information on the author or the book, visit Sheila Ortego's blog, and this article in the Huffington Post.

Thank you to the author, Sheila Ortego, for the opportunity to read this book.

Buy this book at: | | | |

My Rating: 4/5
(#50 for 2009, ARC Reading Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
Tip of the Iceberg
Terra's Book Blog
Puss Reboots
If you have reviewed this book, let me know and I'll link to it here.

The small print:  This book was received free of charge from the author for review purposes.  
Links in this post to Amazon (including book cover) and The Book Depository contain my Associates or Affiliates ID respectively.  Purchases made via these links earn me a small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.


  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed this! I thought her poetic sense came across in her prose too.

  2. I'm really in the mood for some lyrical writing and this sounds like a gem, Nat! Is there much detail about the location? I think I read on Amazon that it's set in New Mexico. I'm going to add this to my TBR list. I'm intrigued. Thank you!

  3. I may not get over here tomorrow, so I want to wish you a very Happy Birthday!! Have fun celebrating. Hope you get spoiled silly! :)

  4. Terri B. - I don't think my "review" if you can call it that, did it justice, but it really was a beautifully written story.

    Sheila - You're very welcome! Thank you again for the opportunity to read it.

    Les - You're right, it is set in New Mexico, and there was a fairly strong sense of place although the story mostly takes place in and around one town. It really was a lovely story. I hope you enjoy it if you get a chance to read it.
    And thank you so much for the birthday wishes! You've made me feel a little guilty though since I'm terrible at remembering other people's birthdays, sorry. :)


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