Laura Hendrie's first book, a collection of interrelated short stories titled Stygo, brought the Colorado Springs-born and raised author critical acclaim and significant literary awards.
Hendrie's recently released first novel, Remember Me, is likely to bring the author more of the same, along with widespread name recognition and national readership.
Set in the fictional northern New Mexico village of Queduro, Remember Me is a feisty, touching tale of love and remembrance, home and homelessness. Think of it as Anne Tyler set in a rugged Western mountain town, and you'll begin to taste the flavor of this book.
In Queduro, a fictional amalgam of Hendrie's actual hometown, Ojo Sarco and nearby Chimayo, nearly everyone makes a living selling heirloom-pattern embroidery to tourists. Rose, the book's central character, is an itinerant embroiderer and the town's best-known outcast. Wild as her willful head of wiry, red curls, Rose spends summers living in the back of her 1979 Pontiac and winters holed up in a cabin at the Ten Tribes, the town's only motel, run by her mentor and friend Birdie, an older man with a penchant for Jack Daniels.
When Birdie's sister Alice returns to Queduro, demanding that he sell the Ten Tribes and travel the world with her, Rose seems destined for homelessness. But something's not right with Alice -- she keeps forgetting where she is and what she intends to do -- and by default and the goodness of her nearly worn-out heart, Rose becomes Alice's caregiver.
Add to the mix Frank, the town sheriff and Rose's oldest and most devoted friend, his chronically depressed wife, a handful of cranky locals and the ghosts of Rose's past, and you've got a village so successfully drawn by Hendrie that the reader just naturally wants to settle in.
Remember Me moves slowly in the beginning, carefully rendering the landscape, history and traditions of Queduro and quietly developing the central characters. And like a really good party, once the introductions are out of the way, the true fun begins.
Hendrie's people are flawed, some barely hanging on, and their connections are long-held but tenuous. With hardened accuracy, the author depicts small town folks the way they often are -- jealous, possessive, suspicious -- and skillfully analyzes the hazards of change on an isolated community seeped in tradition.
But the heart of Remember Me lies in the growing interdependency of Rose and Alice, natural enemies who must learn to drop their defenses in order to mutually survive. As Alice becomes more erratic and the nature of her illness (Alzheimer's, though it is not named in the book) becomes more fully known, Rose sheds some of her hard shell and begins to experience a kind of tenderness she has not felt since she was a child. Hendrie delicately explores the dynamics of caregiving and the unexpected reward of personal service, revealing the crux of community -- people overcoming their differences and coming to understand what they truly share in common.
Good-humored, spiced with a touch of romance, tough-minded, socially conscious and entertaining throughout, Remember Me deserves a place on the bookshelf next to Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant or, closer to its geographic roots, John Nichols' The Milagro Beanfield Wars.
The striking colors and textures are reminiscent of Southern Colorado and New Mexico. Lovely work.