Steven Manchester * Story Plant * February 21, 2017 * 272 Pages
Advanced Reader Copy provided by publisher through Net Galley.
Brothers Jason and Tom Prendergast haven’t spoken to each other in years. Once close allies during an incredibly abusive childhood, now they practically hate each other. After their father dies, however, they are forced to interact again. In his will, their father asks them to make a cross-country trip together–from Massachusetts to Washington–to scatter his ashes near their old home in Seattle. And if they complete the task, they will get to open a mysterious envelope he’s left them, contents unknown.
Initially, neither brother wants to make the trip, but eventually their curiosity gets the best of them and they agree to make the journey. As you might expect, the beginning of the trip is rough. Both brothers are rude and defensive with each other. But over time, they talk, reminisce, and get to know each other again. They find they have more in common than not, and this eventually helps them process their past and come to a healthier place in their relationship.
The premise of the book is intriguing to me. I like that both Jason and Tom (but especially Jason) have such interesting and unique backstories. (Tom is a somewhat prissy professor, and Jason is a prison guard.) I enjoyed reading about Jason’s experiences working with prisoners and at-risk kids. I also like that the brothers talk about so many substantial topics during their long drive: childhood memories of abuse, health issues, relationships, divorce, kids, parenting, job satisfaction, and even social issues like poverty, crime, and the death penalty. The variety helps keep things moving.
But I didn’t love this book. Mostly because the writing is just so annoyingly overwrought. Author Steven Manchester says things like “She faded back into the shadows just as quickly as her tormented smile.” And “Tom awakened.” (i.e., Tom woke up?). It’s cheesy. And it’s on every page. His over-the-top descriptions and contrived plot points (don’t even get me started on the ending…) made me groan. Audibly. Many, many times. There’s simply no subtlety or nuance in this book. I never stopped feeling like Manchester was beating me over the head with each sentence: Do you see how descriptive my words are?! Are you noticing my gritty characters?! Are you feeling the heartbreak of my heartbreaking story?! Ugh, it’s just too much.
So, yes, the premise of this book grabbed my attention, but the execution fell way short. I’m not sure how Ashes already has so many advanced glowing reviews, but this is a big ol’ NOPE in my book.