The Hermit of Blue Ridge by Cary Grossman

The Hermit of Blue Ridge by Cary Grossman

Synopsis:

Author Jeremy Woods has found perfect isolation, high in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he can write in peace–until a strange, strikingly beautiful girl crashes into his cottage, and his life. At first, Jeremy is intrigued; the girl displays remarkable talent, able to create stunning sketches with almost photographic detail. Her work soon takes on an eerie quality, however, matching that of Jeremy’s first love, Priscilla–a hauntingly original artist murdered at the tender age of eighteen–to the most minute detail. Even more troubling is Jeremy’s growing attraction to the girl, whose name is Sarah. As they grow close and Sarah starts painting, Jeremy realizes something is terribly wrong. 
Cary Grossman’s fourth book of speculative fiction depicts two damaged people struggling with the ghosts of their past in the hope of keeping the comfort they have found in one another.

Stars: 3

At three stars, it likely stands to reason there’s going to be a handful of things I enjoyed and a handful of things I did not. 
Compliment sandwich commence… 
The general plot is intriguing. Without giving away spoilers that’s about as much as I can say. 
The Jewish lawyer, Abe, is fantastic. He’s the most believable and beloved character in this book for me. I found his dialogue impeccable and his nickname for Jeremy of Jerala, I loved. Every time Jeremy spoke with Abe, I relished in their relationship and how Abe moved the story forward. I loved the way they bounced thoughts and feelings off each other, their banter. Here’s an Abe quote: “I’ve been acquainted with bad veal that had better breath.”
Ha. Such an Abe thing to say.
The bad. I have two major critiques about the book. 

1.) If this book is 100,000 words, it’s 30,000 too many. I really struggled to stay “in” the book. Frankly, at halfway through, I didn’t really know why I’d keep reading and came extremely close to calling it, banishing the book to my DNF pile. A big mystery is presented early on, who is Sarah? But once the reader knows the answer, which happens before even the midpoint, I was like, “Why do I still care about these people?” I suppose if I LOVED the characters, I’d just blindly care about their life, but see point 2. The answer of why to care does get answered and I was into it, but it took like 100 virtual pages to discover. That’s too long a lull. 

In other too-many-words news, many elements are repeated to exhaustion. I stopped caring how much and what types of alcohol they drank. If I had to read that they had one or two fingers of whiskey again, I was gonna scream. I stopped caring about pages upon pages of detail around scenery and definitely got sick of knowing exactly what they were eating. Oh, Jeremy is making a stew? With carrots? Why do I care? Sarah’s backstory took like twenty pages, which was about eighteen too many. There were large chunks of the manuscript where the same concept was repeated four or five times. Yes, I understand Sarah is eighteen. Yes, I understand there is a large age gap. Yes, I understand Jeremy hasn’t had anyone in his home in fifteen years, hell the title tells me he’s a hermit. I get these things; please stop repeating them.

2) Mr. Grossman has the unfortunate fate of writing a female character who I find to be the total over-sexed, uncreative physical ideal of women that started a Twitter firestorm. His treatment of the visuals of sex were very tasteful and I thought well-done. However, the way Sarah’s sexuality is characterized reads like nothing but a man’s fantasy of this hot, young body, which is constantly described as “soft.”  The insinuation is that nothing stops this eighteen year old girl from being constantly ready to go either with Jeremy or with herself. Seriously, morning, noon and night, in planes, trains or automobiles, she cannot keep her fucking pants on. Doesn’t she ever have her period or get the shits or just, I don’t know, not feel like having sex? Essentially what I’m saying is sex isn’t always beautiful. Sometimes people smell and fart and, hurt a taint. Then, not only does she essentially live to fuck Jeremy and paint (topless of course), but there’s a little domestic violence (I’m using this term carefully and purposefully, as the scene isn’t during sex, it’s during an argument), where afterwards, she actually tells Jeremy she liked it, liked the roughness. Now, I understand the complexities of S&M fetish, a la Fifty Shades and also the literary challenge of Proust or Kundera, challenging defilement or categorizing rape as sexy while castration is not, respectively. I read; I possess the capacity to understand deep psychological complexity as it relates to human sexuality. 

But, there’s just really nothing deep about Sarah. She’s a painter and preaches at Jeremy about love, but that doesn’t make her deep. The focus on how much Jeremy and her fucked and ate and drank left them both feeling very shallow.
I wish Sarah was a complex character that she feels like she can be. She has an interesting backstory and a lot to work with. Yet, she tends to solve her problems through moping about or fucking Jeremy. This man, 27 years her senior, but stunted significantly by isolation, should still be challenging her. He sort of rolls over and never does that. He’s painted to be unequivocally the “bad guy”, the hermit whose past has scarred him beyond loving. But, I mean, a man of 45, who writes novels and therefore thinks deeply about the human condition, should at some point have wisdom about more than the planets and galaxies and making food. 
Ultimately, all the ingredients (all listed in painstaking detail!) are there, they just need to be tightened up a bit and the characters rounded out, because when Mr. Grossman pulls everything together, there are some really nice moments… like… 
“It was like a language that only Sarah could speak, one that told him, reminded him, that we’re only here in this life for a flash and then we’re gone, that moments in which we could hold someone in our arms, cling to them in desperate passion and love were a celebration that we’re here now, at this particular point in history together, and that it was all too temporary; that, one day soon, one would be leaving the other, never to return, and the other would live on, surrounded by memories of the past until succumbing, too, to the final sleep. Sarah had reminded him that life is brief, and that when you found someone like this, you didn’t let that person go.” 
Or this… 
“And though she was a deeply poignant reminder of what he’d lost, he found himself comforted to know she existed”
Those sentiments are real and beautifully done. 
PS: A book about a writer, writing about a writer is like, so meta. I just read Asymmetry which has the same concept and sheesh. I know we’re writers, but is there a way we could write about people who, you know… aren’t? Maybe it’s just strange luck the plots are so similar. 

Interested in this read so you too can speak to it? Get your copy here!

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