Thursday, September 5, 2013

“Forbidden Room” by Joanne Lewis

How much does the past shape the present and the future? Could there be no difference between past and present, that time cycles instead of going forward?

Those are the questions underpinning the novel Forbidden Room by Joanne Lewis. Past and present are not so much a continuum as they become almost the same thing at the same time.

Sara Goldstein, an attractive fifth-grade teacher from a wealthy family, is charged with the murder of her uncle. Her attorney, Michael Turner, believes her to be innocent, and ends up ignoring the warning from almost everyone not to get emotionally involved with a client.  He does more than get emotionally involved; he falls in love with her. But can he be sure he knows who she really is?

Nowhere to be found is David Goldstein, Sara’s ex-Marine younger brother whom she’s called Soldier Boy since they were children. They are as close as a brother and sister can be, having creating a mutual protection against growing up with an alcoholic mother who fought constantly with their father. When Sara was 14 and David 10, they found their parents murdered at home. Sara believe her uncle was the killer; the police never could determine what actually happened.

The novel moves forward on three simultaneous planes, representing different times but eventually converging – the verdict ready to be announced by the jury; the development of Michael’s and Sarah’s relationship as they prepare for the trial, and the childhood of Sara and David. Much seems to center on what is known as the “forbidden room” in the Goldstein home, where Sara’s father kept his collection of antique trains and carousel horses, including a small working carousel.

The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Sara and Michael, and it to the author’s strength as a writer that she tightly controls the narratives, gradually developing the story so that all threads eventually come together.

Forbidden Room is a suspenseful, engaging read, holding the reader’s attention until the final page.

Photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

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