Black Chokeberry, a sensuous and tender novel, revolves around a tiny town, Oswego, in upstate New York. Ellen has come home after many years of living in Nashville, Tennessee after a long marriage and a new divorce. She can’t eat, can’t sleep, and only her dog Henry keeps her going.
Ruby is the town curmudgeon, a rich spinster who has literally never left home. After taking care of her parents until their death, she lives in her childhood home. She lives across the street from Ellen and glares at Henry whenever Ellen and Henry take a walk in the neighborhood. For Ruby sees the glass half full, and her miserly vision and habits contend with the fact that Ruby is rich.
Frances, Ellen’s next door neighbor, is an elderly woman, also from Nashville, who is the epitomy of grace, hospitality and kindness. When Ruby begrudgingly knocks on Ellen’s front door with a welcoming lamb bone for Henry, Henry rushes Ruby for the bone. Ruby falls down the stairs, breaking her wrist, her ankle and with bruises and cuts all over. Soon after, Frances has a stroke. Ellen feels she has no choice – she moves in with Frances for a month to help her, and then brings Ruby home from the hospital and moves Ruby in with Frances so that she can take care of both of them at the same time. Ellen calls it the Recoup Hotel.
So far, you’re thinking so what? Black Chokeberry hinges on the frame of Ann Tyler, who takes circumspect, oddball characters and turns their lives into art. Nelson does the same. With a simple plot, she creates a fusion of emotional integrity and tension that denotes a very talented author. The book is more than charming, it is iridescent and folds layers of the three characters into a novel that proves not only endearing but transcendent. These are three women you will not forget long after you put the novel down.
Ellen is hardly in any shape to take care of anyone. At 5’6” she’s down to 114 pounds of pure grief and anguish. She can’t eat. All that she can consume are the occasional candy bar. And she bursts into tears at any given moment, wondering why the divorce happened and why she has come back to a town that treats her like an outcast.
With absolutely no ego, just brilliant storytelling, Martha Nelson plants us right in the middle of Black Chokeberry. As the three women change dramatically and we pull for Ruby, Black Chokeberry sings like a mockingbird. A seemingly quiet novel that roars like a lion, this was one novel I simply lived in, could not put down and went back to read a second time. I loved it.
Black Chokeberry explores the intertwining relationship of three women who come together unexpectedly at crisis points in their lives. Ellen, Ruby, and Frances are all neighbors in the small town of Oswego in upstate New York. The story reveals the joy and pain of these women as they work together to surmount the devastations of divorce, illness, death, storms, and accidents in order to create a new beginning for them all. The transforming power of good food, music, and the value of loving a faithful dog are part of learning to cope and love one another.
Black Chokeberry is available for purchase at Amazon.com
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own.