Tuesday 1 July 2014

Arms Open Wide by Tom Winter

It’s a Thursday afternoon and Meredith is staring at a pot of yogurt.  It’s been in the fridge for almost a year, left there by her husband on the same day he left her too.  It sits unopened and untouched.  Preserved like evidence from a crime scene.  Covered with the invisible finger prints of a man she still loves.
Published by Corsair in April 2014
353 pages
Jack and Meredith are non-identical twins; the only similarity between them is their lives rapidly falling apart. Jack’s high-flying career in advertising has crashed and burned. Meredith’s world is also crumbling – a decomposing yogurt in her fridge now a symbol of her failed marriage. Her children, Jemima and Luke, offer little support, too consumed with the worlds of online dating and amateur taxidermy. All their lives, Jack and Meredith believed their father to be dead. One day, a throwaway comment leads Jack to question this, but with their mother fading ever-deeper into the grip of dementia, answers are hard to come by. As revelations start to untangle, the twins soon learn that what you seek is not always what you find… 
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Tom Winter’s Lost and Found was my favourite book of last year.  Arms Wide Open is his second novel and he seems to be developing a theme for the bittersweet twists and turns of life.  Adult protagonists Meredith and Jack are non-identical twins, born to an embittered single mother and potentially carrying the gene for early on-set dementia.  
The book is a snapshot of their lives a year on from Meredith’s husband leaving her.  Whilst she pines for a husband so emotionally detached, he barely sees their two children, Jack’s successful career is headed down the pan – and no one knows the real reason why.
The characters are as vivid and absorbing as Winter’s debut (though he’ll have to go a long way to replace Lost and Found’s Albert in my heart!), and there’s a far greater range of personalities.  Meredith’s son is fabulously unique, and as a result, experiencing the inevitable bullying this brings.  Her daughter is at heart insecure but in that well-documented way of teenage girls, possessed of an attitude of indestructibility which leads her into particularly dangerous situations.  I liked that the novel dealt with numerous modern day issues affecting young people in a way which is largely un-judgemental.
I think the best thing about the way Tom Winter seems to write all his characters is with equal measures of good and bad.  No one is escapable of redemption, no one is ever truly one sided, there are reasons behind all their behaviour and so far, it’s never clich├ęd.   Ultimately this makes him capable of turning books with the ability to be horrifically depressing to actually nurture glimmers of hope.
Winter retains his use of language which is both witty and cutting, and in this novel, we see an outrageous side – multiple strands within the novel combine to an entire series of events which are at best comically unlucky and at worst absolutely ridiculous for our main characters.  Slow down Tom, don’t use all your ideas at once! But then again... whoever wrote a novel about a string of dull everyday happenings?
Overall, it’s another winning novel for me, with an ending which is both devastatingly sad and yet hopeful.    

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