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05 August 2013

Richard North Patterson: Loss of Innocence

Emotional and evocative coming-of-age drama
"Loss of Innocence" is one of Richard North Patterson's most memorable novels - emotional, and thought provoking, conjuring up a pivotal era in fairly recent US history. It is a saga of the impact of class, money, power and pretense over family love and loyalty.

In a most unusual prologue, two women meet for the first time at Martha's Vineyard, a strange couple brought together by the memory of Benjamin Blaine, a man they both loved. Carla Pacelli was present at his death and is carrying his child. Whitney Blaine is twice Carla's age and her memories are of the man she met 43 years ago during a fateful summer on the island.

Whitney shares her memories of Ben in 1968 - a pivotal time in US history with the joint tragedies of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy set against the background of the Vietnam War and youthful rebellion against the war. Ben was a close aide to Kennedy at the time of his death and returns to his home on the Vineyard to recover and await his future at the hands of the draft.

Whitney is a daughter of privilege brought up in a rich world where a good marriage is expected and, after college, supporting her husband will be her main career. She is engaged to marry Peter who meets all of her parents' tests for a good husband, so much so that he is given a job in her father's business and the wedding gift is an apartment in New York near the office.

This is really a coming-of-age story for Whitney as she struggles to find her own path in the world. During that summer at Martha's Vineyard, Whitney meets Ben, who has been brought up on the Island under very different circumstances. Ben brings with him a different view of the world and they develop an unusual rapport that worries her family because his background and views are diametrically different to theirs. This is a recipe for the conflicts and betrayals that follow.

Richard North Patterson has been one of my favourite authors since his early legal mysteries and this is one of his best books I have read. Given that this book is so evocative of a key time in US history I am surprised that it has been released in Australia in August well ahead of its US release in October. Also surprising is that Paterson considers this book to be a prequel to his last novel "Fall from Grace". Both books will form part of a trilogy about the Blaine family which will conclude with "Eden in Winter" which is yet to be released.

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