Driving home from work on a summer afternoon, Melba Burns witnesses a nightmare collision. The wreck ends her pursuit of success at any cost—Melba parks her car, quits her job and stops driving. She retreats into her beloved old farmhouse, yearning for a simpler peace.
But peace and Melba’s new roommate, JoLee Garry, have never met. A shallow, self-absorbed stunner, JoLee magnetizes messes and trouble. She brings boyfriends, booze and a tag-along son with her—a series of unexpected guests who transform Melba’s solo life into something different, daring and richer.
"This being human is a guest house, every morning a new arrival..." —Rumi
This quote is the meaning behind the title of Guest House which resonates so clearly with the story that is told in this wonderful debut novel by Barbara K. Richardson. The book opens with Melba Burns, a 53 year old realtor in Portland Oregon who has much to be grateful for in her life. She is successful in her career and financially secure but yet emotionally she is dealing with regrets from her past and few deep connections to others. After witnessing a horrible accident, she reevaluates her life and makes drastic changes. She buys an old farmhouse and starts a new life of sorts. She is always one that tends to save people and give them the benefit of the doubt. She takes in a boarder, JoLee Garry who has a troubled past. She is estranged from her husband Gene who has taken her son off to live a life in a small town in Idaho in hopes of convincing her to take him back. Sadly, both JoLee and Gene are not the best parents and are neglectful and downright selfish. Their son Matt, who is 10 learns quickly how to fend for himself in a world of imagination and self preservation.
Fortunately, Matt settles in the farmhouse with his mother and Melba who turns out to be the one that is like a guardian angel of sorts for Matt. She stands up for him and guides him in quiet ways so as not to take away the authority of his parents. Parents who are too focused on themselves to realize what they need to do to help raise their son. Melba realizes that she has to challenge her own fears and struggles to help herself and Matt.
There are many Melba's in the world that end up caring for children who are neglected by their parents. In this novel, I found that Ms. Richardson did a beautiful job giving attention to this issue and for me, pointing out that a child can still find a way to survive and others can show up in their life to help guide them. Also, that as an adult you can make a difference in a child's life even when parents don't step up to the plate to do their job. It's sad but realistic that not all parents can handle parenthood, it's not an easy job and when you add immaturity, alcoholism, drugs, selfishness and more to the mix it makes it so much harder on children. For me, this was not a depressing novel but a realistic one that shares love and hope amidst tragic circumstances. Melba is the kind of woman that I would want as a friend and neighbor as she is authentic, kind, giving and honest. Matt learns self acceptance the hard way although I found some circumstances may have lent themselves more towards an older child's experiences.
I highly recommend this novel. The writing flows beautifully, the characters are well developed and this book will challenge you to think about family, life, love, childhood and more.
You can read an excerpt of the first chapter of Guest House, here.
You can read more about Guest House at Barbara K. Richardson's website, here.
Listen to an interview with Ms. Richardson, here
Here is a wonderful video about the inspiration for Guest House:
Disclosure: Thanks to Anne from Book Report Network for sending me a review copy. I am an Amazon and Indiebound associate.