Love and Other Battles (Tess Woods, HarperCollins)
Tess Woods’ latest novel follows the lives of three generations of women: Jess is a flower child who falls for a soldier under the shadow of the Vietnam war; Jamie is their daughter, a woman who craves the stability and respectability missing from her childhood; and CJ is Jamie’s daughter, a teenager on the brink of womanhood who feels torn between her grandmother’s free spirit and her mother’s security. Developing three well-rounded main characters (two of which feature in dual timelines) would be a challenge for any author, but Woods manages to create fully dimensional characters, each facing private and public struggles. Some of the plot elements lack nuance (CJ’s descent into self-harm, for example, is particularly oversimplified), but these underdeveloped areas are balanced by the rich emotional landscapes constructed between the women as they navigate their relationships and responsibilities to themselves and each other. The plot twist in the final pages suggests a lack of confidence in the ability of the narrative to hold interest—or perhaps a too-tight adherence to the expected in dual-timeline women’s commercial fiction—but feels unnecessary in a novel that is already compulsively readable.
Kate Cuthbert is program manager at Writers Victoria