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"The Laws of Harmony" by Judith Ryan Hendricks

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Judith Ryan Hendricks gives us the tribulations and crankiness of Soleil (who goes by ‘Sunny’) in “The Laws of Harmony.” Even given the struggle of her childhood in a New Mexico commune, and all the resulting issues she has with her mother, we still find it hard to engage our emotions or hopes for her.

Sunny Cooper pushes people away from herself. Her large unresolved resentment of her mother Gwen precludes closeness with others, even the handsome, compelling Michael, who proposes to her. She balks and makes him wait for her to come around to the idea. But Michael’s duplicity, legal trouble, and disappearance generate not only the tension that pushes the narrative forward, but it pushes Sunny to move from Albuquerque to a remote island off the coast of Washington state.

Here she meets the permanent (non-tourist) population, a mixed lot who try to offer help and support, which Sunny feels ambivalent toward, and doesn’t want to accept. Ms. Hendricks makes an attempt to wrap up the story’s threads and does so at some basic level, but again, I found my emotions only half-engaged.

“The Laws of Harmony” spends a fair amount of its capital in expansive descriptions of mundane tasks: food prep and cooking, showering, tidying up, or simply walking through a ferry terminal. Events and thought process quite central to the novel, however, have a glossed-over feeling at times. Chief among these: Sunny’s near-constant anger and anti-social behavior. This does soften near the end, but I don’t think it’s adequately founded in the story. I don’t see her motivation. Sunny’s evolution from being someone with a hard, isolated outlook into a person capable of accepting and giving human kindness, starts by novel’s end, but the ending has an abrupt, rather arbitrary feel. There are sections that amuse, and I did find myself laughing at some of the dialog, but overall, I felt I could spend my time on projects with a greater reward.

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