Book Report: A Soft Place to Land

Atlanta-based writer Susan Rebecca White, author of Bound South, returns with a new novel, A Soft Place to Land

The book, which highlights White’s skill for crafting narrative and deeply sympathetic characters, follows the lives of half sisters Ruthie and Julia over two decades. At the story’s opening, the sisters — who are in junior high and high school respectively — lose both of their parents to a small plane crash. The reading of the will reveals that Ruthie will move to San Francisco with her aunt and uncle while Julia will remain in their hometown of Atlanta with her birth father and his wife.

Though the sisters, who have always been close, plan to remain each other’s confidant and support despite living on opposite coasts, their new situations and very different ways of dealing with loss create a deep rift. Ruthie’s life in San Francisco exposes her cultures, cuisines and political views never before available to her in Atlanta. She blossoms under the loving care of her aunt and uncle and begins to develop different tastes than those she previously shared with her sister.

Julia, on the other hand, finds herself living with a contentious step mother and an ineffective father. She turns to drugs, alcohol and self-destructive behaviors that eventually result in her being sent to a rehab facility. Further bad decisions and miscommunications lead to a breakdown between the sisters, who become distrustful of each other.

The majority of the book centers around Ruthie who, despite being the more conservative and less attractive sister, seems to be White’s favorite. She is more relatable and more faceted than her wilder, flawed sister. While Julia grows over the course of the book, she is usually selfish, brash and a loose cannon while Ruthie seems to evolve over 16 years’ time, her interests crystalizing and her point of view maturing.

Perhaps the best parts of the books — and it’s a highly enjoyable read — are White’s descriptions of San Francisco, which she colors more favorably than her own hometown of Atlanta. White elegantly depicts food and clothing and applies a skilled hand at flashbacks and letters that illuminate the past.

What is less successful — though perhaps necessary to the plot — are the references to recent events such as September 11 and “the miracle on the Hudson.” To place the fictional characters of Soft in real time is somewhat jarring. The intrusion of these real events removes the reader from White’s capable hands and allows a personal perspective to taint the story. Of course, not all readers will feel this way and, overall, Soft is successful.

Susan Rebecca White reads from A Soft Place to Land at Malaprop’s on Saturday, May 22, 7 p.m. Free.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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One thought on “Book Report: A Soft Place to Land

  1. Carly

    As I began to read A Soft Place to Land, I was very interested. However, as I continued the book the cheap shots against republicans was a tremendous turn off. I was internally fighting with myself whether or not to finish the novel. The final straw was in chapter 16 when the comment was said that Ruthie would never vote Republican. Throughout the entire book shots such as these were made, including ones against George W. Bush. Other comments such as Ruthie’s husband, Gabe, mimicking Barrak and Michelle Obama fist pound, were just annoying to me. I will never recommend this book to anyone, and I regret that I spent $15 on such a liberal novel. Susan Rebecca White completely curved me away from her story.

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