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Trespass by Valerie Martin
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Trespass (2007)

by Valerie Martin

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MORAL FICTION AT ITS BEST: "Trespass" by Valerie Martin is a masterful work of literary, moral, and intellectual fiction, but it is also a compelling work of contemporary storytelling. I was hooked into the plot from the very first page--immediately submerged in a dark, moody world filled with threatening overtones. This book has taut suspense, but also great thematic power.

As the title suggests, this is a novel about trespass--about the myriad boundaries in our lives and the people who violate them. But more importantly, it is about how individuals choose to react to those violations. The main characters in this novel endure encroachment, transgression, intrusion, and invasion--all nuances of the title word. These transgressions give weight to the storyline. But it is ultimately how each character responds to these transgressions that captures the reader's intellectual interest. Some characters make choices that lead toward health and a life. Others make choices that propel them on negative downward spirals. Martin shows us how her characters choose to live with uncomfortable truths and unchangeable reality.

The story begins in late 2002, that tumultuous period when the United States was getting day-by-day ever closer to war with Iraq. We meet the Dale family living a comfortable, bucolic upper-middle class life in rural upstate New York. The father, Brendan, is a professor of medieval history researching and writing an academic biography of a 13th-century king that played a significant role in the Crusades. Chloe, the mother, is a book illustrator researching and creating engravings for a new edition of "Wuthering Heights." Their son, Toby, is a college student studying at NYU. Everyone in the family is liberal and politically active.

Two separate forces trespass into this world.

First, Toby brings home Salome Drago, a strange exotic Croatian-American NYU student whom he loves beyond reason. To Toby, Salome is bright, passionate, and self-confident; however, Toby's parents find her moody, abrasive, and confrontational. Brendan keeps these thoughts to himself, but Chloe confronts her son privately with her distrust and dislike toward this new woman in his life. Chloe has nothing but antipathy toward this family encroacher.

Second, there's an actual intruder loose in Chloe's backyard--a poacher has left tell-tale signs that he is hunting within their private 10-acre woods. Chloe is obsessed with finding out who this man is, and getting him off her property. She feels threatened and violated.

Woven erratically throughout the novel is a parallel story about a woman living in Croatia some dozen years earlier. The woman in this story is both a transgressor and a victim. Her story is a passionate tale of a woman seeking her identity at all costs. But war intervenes, and this woman falls victim to some of its worst atrocities. Circumstances force her to make a series of fateful decisions, all in the face of untold hardship and suffering. The reader is left to examine these decisions and contemplate their overall effect on the lives of those most dear to her. Were these healthy decisions? Were they right? Has this woman created the best life she could for herself despite all the horrors she endured and the pain she caused others?

As the main story unfolds, readers ask similar questions about each member of the Dale and Drago families. These characters also experience a series of life-changing events, and the reader ponders the motives behind each character's fateful decisions. At the end, the author wants us to try to gaze into the future and imagine how we might expect the lives of these characters to unfold. How will these characters fare in a future where they must constantly deal with issues of trespass?

Brendan, the historian, is in this novel for a purpose. As the novel draws to a close, Brendan is watching TV alone in a Trieste restaurant and realizes that America has finally initiated the long-feared war with Iraq. He and the other patrons of the restaurant watch, all with little amazement, as the horrific "Shock and Awe" bombing campaign of Baghdad is played out on live television. Brendan thinks: "The thing to do is to take the long view of it; this is his profession, after all. What is really happening on that screen is history-in-the-making, and not just recent history, but, should the planet survive, ancient history. Our fate is ever to rush into the past as if we thought it was the future. But we are in the history van along with all the other curious, faded civilizations that failed for reasons now obvious."

This is a novel in the best tradition of moral fiction. Enjoy the suspense, but linger over the messages. Frankly, I don't see the happy ending that some other reviewers complain about. This book has an ending perfectly consistent with the whole. It is not a book that I will probably reread in a few years, and these are characters that I will probably soon forget. But I recommend this work highly because of its deep thematic impact and the compelling suspense I enjoyed while reading it.

If after finishing this work, you desire to see a truly outstanding independent film on an eerily similar subject, I recommend "[[ASIN:B000NJWIPI The Secret Life of Words]]." This is a truly amazing film--positively unforgettable in every way!
1 vote lonepalm | Dec 8, 2011 |
This novel had, in the abstract, very little plot, but was fully captivating and I cared deeply what happened to the characters. In the plot, such as it was, a mother is troubled by her college-aged son's choice of a new girlfriend, while the father, a history professor who's struggling to find meaning in his work, tries to mediate. In a side story, the mother, an artist (specifically, a book illustrator who's working on illustrations for a new edition of Wuthering Heights) becomes obsessed with a poacher on their wooded acreage. The girlfriend's family history in the Balkans also adds considerable dramatic effect in the last half of the book. But it's the characters who are really memorable, along with their experience of war and the dramatic contrast between the Americans' comfortable protest of the buildup to the Iraq war and the girlfriends' family's direct experience of war. ( )
2 vote dianestm | Jan 5, 2010 |
Engaging and well-written story of two families struggling with external and internal wars. Harsh at times, but true to human nature. The author is not detached and sterile about her characters, which is a welcome contrast to many contemporary novels with thematic plots. ( )
1 vote sonyau | Jul 14, 2009 |
  books4micks | Jul 13, 2009 |
Contrasts the lives of the displaced and massacred Croats during their war against the Serbs in the 1990's to the lives of Americans during the first Iraq war who watched that war from the comfort of their living rooms and local fern bars. Didactic and ( )
  eejjennings | Apr 22, 2009 |
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For Christine Wiltz, who drove me down the river to find the Oyster King
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Dark hair and lots of it, heavy brows, sharp features, dark eyes, dark circles under the eyes, dark looks about the room, at the maitre d', the waitress, the trolley laden with rich, tempting desserts, and finally, as Toby guides her to the table, at Chloe, who holds out her hand and says pleasantly, though she is experiencing the first tentative pricks of the panic that will consume her nights and disrupt her days for some time to come, "Salome, how good to meet you."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385515456, Hardcover)

Chloe Dale’s life is in good order. Her only child, Toby, has started his junior year at New York University; her husband, an academic on sabbatical, is working at home on his book about the Crusades; and Chloe is busy creating illustrations for a special edition of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Yet Chloe is disturbed—by the aggression of her government’s foreign policy, by the poacher who roams the land behind her studio punctuating her solitude with rifle fire, and finally, by Toby’s new girlfriend, a Croatian refugee named Salome Drago.
Raised in the Croatian expatriate community of New Orleans, Salome is a toxic mix of the old world and the new: intelligent, superstitious, sly, seductive, and confident. But Salome’s past is a mine of dangerous secrets, and the violence that destroyed her homeland is far from over. Chloe distrusts her on sight, and as Toby’s obsession with Salome grows, Chloe’s mistrust deepens, alienating her from her tolerant husband and besotted son. Rich with menace, the novel unfolds in a world where darkness intrudes into bright and pleasant places, a world with betrayal at its heart. In shimmering prose Valerie Martin raises the question: who shall inherit America?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:50 -0400)

Chloe Dales's growing dislike of her college-age son Toby's romantic relationship with Salome Drago, a Croatian refugee who is a seductive but somehow toxic blend of the old world and the new, threatens to alienate her from her tolerant husband and besotted son.… (more)

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