By: Martha Woodroof
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: 2014
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: August 6, 2014
Martha Woodroof’s debut novel, Small Blessings, is a story about the promise of new beginnings in a small town college.
The small, southern college town is rife with small town scandal. The latest contribution is the arrival of Rose Callahan. Who is she? She is the new (and rather mysterious) hire for the campus book store. English Professor Tom Putnam is intrigued by this new addition to the tawdry and eclectic staff already on hand. Putnam is dignified and projects decorum and above all has resolve with his life and that of his crazy wife Marjory. During a welcome reception at the bookstore (and after introductions of Rose Callahan), when Putnam tactfully attempts to usher his wife to the exit; imagine everyone’s surprise when Marjory extends a dinner invitation to the new addition to campus...
Later that evening and more than perplexed by Marjory’s impromptu invitation, Tom Putnam climbs the stairs to his attic ‘man cave.’ When his cantankerous mother-in-law Agnes breaches his refuge and deposits a mysterious letter on his desk and recedes, Tom is left to read its contents. Imagine his surprise when he learns of the existence of the son he didn’t know he had. Indeed, the tides in the sleepy college town are about to take a distinct turn. Reeling from the news of a son, Tom now has the deed of delivering such news to his crazy wife. Of course, Marjory was well aware of his nefarious wandering act years prior, but this latest blow is one Tom was nowhere yet prepared to explain... and why do thoughts of Rose Callahan persist in his mind while trying to sort out his present dilemma?
Martha Woodruff gathers a gaggle of fractured beings and deposits them across the pages and into the backdrop of college campus goings on. Her characters are unique and believable in their individual respects as much as their interactions with each other. Her two main characters, Tom Putnam and Rose Callahan are somewhat broken individuals but Woodruff’s strategic development of them provides a sublime sense of the hope each carries within. While they come from different backgrounds, there is a distinct tone that their meeting is more than a coincidence and Ms. Woodruff feeds this premise to the reader often through fluid scenes and adept dialogue. Within the first handful of pages, the reader is able to engage with the story and travel alongside Ms. Woodruff’s telling of it. Woodruff doesn’t elicit specific power words in describing her characters. Rather, she uses elusive nuances to portray them; such as: “...as the years crept by, he was turning more and more into Greta Gabo, vanting to be alone...” I am often awestruck when a writer zeroes in on an iconic figure from our past and resurrects his or her persona to deliver the credibility into the current character’s development. Ms. Woodruff is a master at doing this and does it often throughout Small Blessings. I applaud her for the engaging story she has written and look forward to her next. Well done Ms. Woodruff!
Quill Says: Small Blessings is an intriguing story of the promise and hope a ‘do-over’ delivers.