A CIRCLE AROUND HER Jonathan Strong Zoland Books

The central protagonist in this ensemble character driven story is Mary Lanaghan. In the end though, it is the “Circle” of characters around her which holds the readers interest. The back of the book would have you believe that Mary, who has spent the last 10 years, post divorce, living in a cabin in the woods of a small town, is just emerging into the world of dating and socializing. However, the narrative itself shows us a different world. Mary has kept a best girlfriend from her old neighborhood, made friends with the gay couple who owns the town diner and has one discarded boyfriend to her name when we find her. She also has four children, two boys-two girls, who have been roaming in and out of her life since they all left home over the past few years.
The modern problems of the gay couple, her children, and an overweight set of siblings that are fixtures in the town, are far more interesting that the musings of the middle aged Mary. One daughter is studying psych and is wondering about her, and everyone’s, leanings toward bi-sexuality. One of the gay men, who is HIV positive, has a crush on one of Mary’s son’s who in turn is having commitment phobia with women, and on and on. Mary on the other hand is wondering whether or not to continue a relationship with a man she has great sex with, and enjoys, but who is an embarrassment because his house is too perfect and well equipped. Yawn. Check out something different and read this article about An Interview With Tim Reynolds
Another story line that never really fully develops is the threat of development around the lake where everyone lives. There is some action here but for the most part it is slow and a side bar at best. The owner of the majority of the land around Mary does intend to sell off some of it, and some of his internal dialogue as he ponders the changing world is very good. And some side characters do have the field across from their house surveyed and dug up.
Confused plot line aside. This is a marvelous read. The characters are interesting, the writing self-possessed and well paced. This is a story about change. The back cover would have you believe it is only about the change that middle aged women go through, but in the end even the youngest of the characters is always reflecting on the road their life is taking and the possibilities ahead. Like a pleasant walk through the woods, everything is interesting, but nothing is shocking or harmful. Still, like a good walk through the wood, I was immensely glad that I took the time to read this book.