Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Solomon's Oak by Jo-Ann Mapson

Contemporary Fiction
Bloomsbury Publishers A rare two hundred year old oak tree and the California homestead where it is located are the setting for Jo-Ann Mapson’s contemporary tale Solomon’s Oak. The mighty oak tree elicits images of shelter, deep roots, and permanence. In fact, many travel miles just to photograph this icon of strength. But over the months of 2003, homestead owner and dog rescuer Glory Solomon struggles to find enough strength to face each day without her husband of twenty years. Only thirty eight years old, she never expected to be a widow, even if she had married an older, more mature man. It had been Dan who had provided the stability and faith that was needed to be foster parents to several troubled young men, and then also turn their ranch into a rescue center for dogs and horses. In a desperate attempt to keep the ranch, Glory decides to offer the chapel Dan had built near the oak to people wanting a unique setting for weddings and events. It is at the first wedding event, a pirate affair, that the lives of three lost souls will collide – Glory herself; Juniper, a troubled fourteen year old thrust on Glory in an emergency foster placement; and Joseph Vigil, a disabled police officer trying to find an equilibrium after the meth lab shot that destroyed his career and killed his friend. What began as a twenty four hour foster placement becomes permanent, and Glory and Juniper begin an erratic journey to healing. The animals themselves provide moments of solace and growth for both, but every day has outbursts of anger, waves of silence, and moments of private tears. Meanwhile, Joseph lives from painkiller to painkiller, trying to numb not only his incessant back pain, but also his memories of his deceased friend. His personal quest to capture the true majesty of the Solomon Oak with his camera places him in proximity to the two women and the rescue dogs. Soon the hope of healing one becomes the path to healing of all. Solomon’s Oak is not a light “new chances/life goes on” tale, but is instead a gritty, tough read. Both Glory and Juniper are poised to keep family, the world, and any mention of faith at bay¸ and there are no quick, heaven opening conversions. Minor characters and Joseph’s heritage provide a rich background of tradition and belief. New chances and new lives begin with small steps of personal courage and a willingness to care about others. One of my favorite passages is the first time Joseph cooks a meal for Glory and Juniper and suddenly realizes the importance of food in new relationships. When you are unsure of the others at the table, food itself will give you a starting point in establishing a common history. For Joseph, he found comfort in his Mexican/Indian family recipes and felt they gave him an avenue for connecting with Glory and Juniper. Interesting observation!

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