Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith

whiskey-and-ribbonsI’m still trying to figure out how I felt about this novel. It’s a quiet, understated read about grief, family, friendship, and romance. It opens with a death–a young policeman is shot and killed while on duty. The book than weaves a compelling story through three timelines and POVs: Evangeline, Eamon’s husband, in the present day, while she’s snowed in during a blizzard with Eamon’s brother Dalton, and Dalton and Eamon in the months preceding Eamon’s death.

There was a lot I loved about this book. It felt like such an authentic portrait of grief. Evangeline is a young widow, with a baby born mere days after her husband’s death. Her grief is overwhelming. Cross-Smith does an amazing job not only writing the details of grief, but all its contradictions of living with such devastating loss. There’s heartbreak and darkness, of course, but there’s also humor, and romance, and deep connection between people. Everything that goes on in the present of the story–though it’s only one weekend (with flashback)–is complicated and layered.

I also loved all the layers of family the novel explored. Dalton and Eamon are adopted brothers who have been best friends their whole lives. Their relationship was so warmly and carefully drawn. I loved the way these men took care of each other, teased each other, held each other up, and knew each other so well. Dalton’s grief over his brother’s death, though different from Evangeline’s, was just as visceral. The way the book was structured with the three intertwining timelines only made it all the more poignant.

If there’s one thing that makes me crazy–both in literature and real life–it’s the idea that some relationships matter more than others, simply by virtue of their type. A mother’s grief for her child trumps a sister’s grief, for example. Or: romantic partners should be everything to each other, fulfilling each other’s every need. It’s nonsense. This book did such a good job of making that clear. The characters in this novel all need each other in so many different ways and they aren’t afraid to admit it. It was so refreshing to read.

Whiskey & Ribbons is a book about all the different kinds of intimacy–between romantic partners, between siblings, between friends, between family members. It’s about how easily those relationships can blur and shift, how one kind of intimacy can transform into another. There was no bullshit “ranking of grief”, here. It was simply a book about all the various ways we love, grieve, and heal.

It did drag a bit, though. It was a deeply internal book, and usually that’s something I love, but in this case, I felt there were moments–mostly in the past timelines–where characters were turning over the same thoughts in their heads in chapter after chapter. It didn’t ruin the book for me, but it did bring it down a notch. I didn’t mind the lack of action, but there was some repetition that started to get to me. On a micro level, I noticed this in the dialogue: characters would often repeat the same phrase twice, in immediate succession. It felt stilted. The descriptive writing was lovely, and the scenes were usually very sharp; it was the internal monologues that lost some of the shine.

I’ll definitely be adding this one to my shelf of excellent books about grief, though.


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