Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Heart Ladder, by Sibby Spencer

TRM Publishing, March 2021

Faith Anderson arrives in England, six months pregnant, having inherited her aunt's home in a small English town. It's the early 1970s. Her boyfriend, Jacob, was drafted, and and has been declared missing in action in Vietnam. She's a bit lost and confused, missing Jacob, certain she'll never see him again.

Thirty years later, her son Dan is working in a bookstore, when a man walks in and says he's Jacob, Dan's father.

Faith never told Dan much, or really anything, about his father, except that he was drafted, and then lost in Vietnam. Dan has always wanted to know  more, of course, and even though he's very skeptical of this stranger, he's still very, very curious. And there is a resemblance between them. They start meeting and talking.

But Jacob, if that's who he is, asks Dan not to tell Faith about him, "because it would be too devastating for her." They get closer; they pull apart; Dan is confused. Jacob wants to tell him something important, but Dan is not getting the message.

Interspersed with Dan's lie, his meetings with Jacob, and bits of Faith's life, we have glimpses of Jacob's time in Vietnam, We see the storm that is apparently how Jacob became missing, and was never found.

And we see a nameless man, imprisoned in a featureless room, with almost no contact with anyone. He's been a prisoner for years, and the prison which started as an old stone building, in which he could hear and even talk to other prisoners, would see his jailers, unpleasant but normal. It has changed over time, becoming this featureless place. He's a political prisoner, but we don't know why.

Back in the early 2000s, where Dan is meeting with Jacob, or as he decides to call him, JD, we learn the man claiming to be his father is trying to prevent him from making a terrible mistake.

Faith, meanwhile, has realized she made a mistake, in not telling Dan the truth about his father.

These are characters developed slowly but well, growing and changing as we follow them. I came to care deeply about all of them, wanting a satisfying resolution for all of them.

And yes, there is a science-fictional element to the story, which is not obvious at first, but the hints are planted. It's a successful blend of historical, "literary," and that bit of science fiction.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher.

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