Book Review: The First Warm Evening of the Year

The First Warm Evening of the Year by Jamie M. Saul

I had a chance to read Jamie M. Saul’s newest novel, The First Warm Evening of the Year, when I received it from the publisher.  The book was published late last month; it has been available for a few weeks.  This is my first experience reading anything by this author.  I’ll admit, the title was a bit off-putting to me.  It’s just more words than I like in a title!

Here is a brief synposis of the book:

Geoffrey Tremont is untroubled by his neat, contented bachelor life in bustling New York City, filled with sophisticated friends, an undemanding lover devoted to her own career, and his wise brother, a psychiatrist who is the only one who sees and understands him completely—just the way Geoffrey wants it. On an ordinary day, Geoffrey arrives home to find a letter awaiting him with a postmark from an unfamiliar town: Shady Grove, New York. An old friend has named him the executor of her estate. Twenty years ago, in college, Geoffrey and Laura Welles had been each other’s confidant; as their lives diverged, they went their separate ways. Now, she’s reached out of the past to ask him a final favor. Laura’s death has also brought her brother, Simon, to Geoffrey’s doorstep. With his sister gone, Simon has no one but her old friend Geoffrey with whom to settle past grievances.

With Simon in tow, Geoffrey travels up to Laura’s hometown—the place she chose to live her final years—where he meets Marian Ballantine. A widow living in the shadow of an idyllic marriage, and now grieving the loss of her best friend, Marian knows a lot about Geoffrey. Laura often spoke of him, she tells him, and though he’s flattered, he’s also thrown off balance. From the moment he first sees her, Geoffrey instinctively knows this attractive, plainspoken woman has the power to upend his cool, compartmentalized life. What Marian knows is that life comes with no guarantees, no promises of lasting happiness, and although she finds herself unsettled by this persistent, compelling man, she’s unwilling to trade her hard-won, quotidian existence for an indefinite future. Faced with the decision to embrace the unknown or retreat to the safety of the familiar, they will both have to discover the courage it takes to tumble into the abyss of love.

The First Warm Evening of the Year is a gripping and evocative novel that resonates on every page with the joys and pains of being alive. It is a novel that more than satisfies the promise of the author’s debut, Light of Day, about which the Indianapolis Star said, “Saul’s ability to create deep and interesting characters is a strength that no doubt will surface time and again in future works,” and prompted to praise Saul’s “sensitivity and rare understanding of the human psyche.”

Based on that snippet, the book seemed very promising to me.  And I checked out other early reviews as well – all glowing.  However, for me, the book was tedious and slow.  Beautifully written, though. Geoffrey, the protagonist, just rubbed me the wrong way; his willingness to invade a person’s life the way he did was disturbing.  The brother of the deceased woman, Simon, seemed hollow and not well-developed.  I kept waiting for a huge bombshell to be revealed, or for one of the perfect strangers Geoffrey approached to be less forthcoming about their personal lives.  Something about the interactions felt improbable to me.

I’m sure for many people this is the perfect type of book – a good, slow, methodical story about love and relationships.  And there were a couple of moments where I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with a thought or emotion.  Although I don’t know that Id’ read it again, I would recommend it to others.  For many people this should be an enjoyable summer read.

Quick Facts:
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (April 24, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061449725
ISBN-13: 978-0061449727
Facebook: Jamie M. Saul

I received a copy of this book from the publisher; all opinions are my own and no other compensation was given.