Director, producer and screenwriter Hyatt Bass's debut novel is an exploration of a family, of how three very different people react to a single traumatic event.
The novel opens with lawyer Emily Ascher and her fiance visiting the Berkshires in 2007 in preparation for the wedding they plan to hold on the Ascher family's vacation property there.
Where the house used to be, there was only meadow now—her family's own piece of rolling Berkshire hills. [...] For the first time, the actual destruction of the house didn't have the feeling of something that had happened to [Emily] personally. It felt instead like an epic or a myth. And it was mythic, really, the way her father had destroyed everything: his house, his family, and of course most tragically, his son. In retrospect, it all seemed inevitable, as if fate had destined things to be so and had never offered the possibility of them happening any other way.Flashbacks begin in 1992, working their way to the present (2007-2008), slowly revealing the root cause of the Ascher family's brokenness.
Joe Ascher is a famous actor and playwright who has been suffering from crippling writer's block. Self absorbed to the point of misanthropy, he is misunderstood by everyone around him and unable to make the slightest effort to reestablish his fractured relationship with daughter Emily.
An ever dutiful wife and mother, Laura is plagued by what-might-have-been. Between her critical parents, a distant and unfaithful husband, and an abandoned acting career, she has to struggle for many years until she is able to come into her own.
Once wild Emily has grown into a hard woman who puts her job first (to the point of skipping her anniversary dinner to meet with a client). She holds herself and others to very high standards.
The mystery is Thomas whose untimely death marks the family in so many ways. And, the real thrust of the novel, what keeps the reader reading, is the desire to know exactly what caused Thomas' death.
The Embers is a good first novel. While the writing strong, some readers may be put off by the fact that the narrative jumps from character to character as well as from present to past. Hyatt portrays her main characters with empathy, but none of them is particularly likable. The most sympathetic characters in the novel are the people who put up with our protagonists: Earl, Laura's second husband; Emily's half-Korean fiance, Clay; and, of course, teenage Thomas. The Ascher family is dysfunctional and it is unclear, even at the end of the novel, whether there is hope for redemption and reconciliation.
I, for one, am very interested to see what Hyatt Bass writes in future.