I had really never heard of this book before seeing one of the main characters mentioned in a post on bookstagram. As always, I need to be better about writing these things down, because I totally don’t remember who made the original post, but the question was something about book boyfriends. And more than one person mentioned someone named Dalton. It wasn’t a name I recognized, so thankfully someone also listed the book it was from: Whiskey and Ribbons. Well, I’m nothing if not a sucker for a good book boyfriend, so the next time I was at the library I checked for this book and, since it was available, grabbed it!
“Women, you are sleek and gorgeous. You hold us together, you’re the ribbons. We’re men. Dangerous only if you take us too seriously. We’re the whiskey. To whiskey and ribbons.”
I think perhaps the premise of this book doesn’t do its contents justice. If I had just read the description, I would not have been as inclined to read it. Evangeline is nine months pregnant when her husband, Eamon, a police officer, is killed in the line of duty. Honestly, that’s such a heartbreaking start and I am not always in the mood for sobbing while reading (I’m ridiculously emotional). Told from three perspectives, we get the full story of a family through the unfolding of this book. Evangeline speaks to us from after Eamon’s death, primarily during a current-day weekend snowed in with Eamon’s brother, Dalton. Eamon speaks to us from before his death, how it felt finding Evangeline, marrying her and towards the end, his internal struggle as he prepares to be a father while working in a dangerous profession. And then there’s Dalton, Eamon’s adopted brother. His story spans years, back to his childhood becoming part of Eamon’s family up through the present day as he finds out about his biological parents, deals with Eamon’s passing, and fulfills his promises to take care of Evangeline (and the baby) if anything were ever to happen to Eamon.
I can’t say exactly what I was expecting from this book. Between the mentions of Dalton as a perfect book boyfriend and the tragic circumstances that create the basis of the novel, I didn’t real have a tangible feel for how I thought things would play out. And really, I hadn’t done too much research into it, other than seeing those few comments on bookstagram and seeing if the library had it. So, needless to say, what I got was unexpectedly amazing – much more than I had been planning or hoping for, that’s for sure. First of all, the writing was just brilliant. It’s vividly insightful and emotional without taking the language too far and obscuring the messages with words. Does that make sense? I am not into novels where the individual words/language are more important than the story they’re telling – a balance of the two elements is really important to me. It’s meditative and reflective and artistic without getting lost in itself, or losing me as a reader. All in all, the narrative style is a perfect match for the story it’s telling. I wrote the following note as I was reading and it’s so accurate that I’m just going to quote myself here: “The feelings that come through on every page are so strong, so heavily rendered, the good and the bad, that you can feel them rising off the page and enveloping you.” Yup – I wrote the truth. Also, I just loved the artistic aspects woven all the way through. I’m not a dancer or a musician (so I had to look up some of the terms), but with Evangeline as a ballerina and Dalton as a pianist, the music and dance vocabulary sprinkled throughout and used as a framework for the story itself is a lovely device.
As for the characters themselves, it would be hard for them to not seem realistic, based on how well-written their emotions are. So yes, they were fully dimensional. I mean, this is a limited view of them, based on the circumstances they are in and this section of their lives we’re exploring, so (especially for Evangeline) they may not be as developed as a larger context could have made them. But at the same time, the way Cross-Smith represents them, you can tell that there is more there for each of them, it’s just pushed away for now. And I did like that. Also, and mainly, let’s talk about the men. I have never, not that I can remember, read a book with two such wonderful male protagonists. The healthy masculinity in the book is off the charts. Both Eamon and Dalton are emotional, sensitive, thoughtful and completely able to be “manly” without sacrificing these traits. I just…it was beautiful to read. And yes, everyone who said Dalton was the perfect book boyfriend was SO RIGHT. Oh man, he really is close to perfect. But I don’t want to forget about Eamon. I see why Dalton is the focal point, for sure (and I’m down with it), but Eamon displays all these characteristics and would be just as legit as far as book boyfriends go, if he were option. It’s impossible to say that Evangeline is lucky to have them both in her life under the circumstances, but also, one cannot ignore that there is good fortune there somewhere.
This book was just so much more than I was expecting. The plot had more depth and twists than I was expecting, the relationships developed were exquisite in both joy and pain, and the emphasis on family, what makes a family, is everything. I loved this book and, even though I cried through the last 30-40 pages, it was totally worth it. I just feel so much after reading this and have so much belief in the power behind healing and hope and how worth it, how meaningful, it is to pour your heart into the people that you have chosen.
Enjoy these couple gorgeous quotes that I highlighted while reading. And then go get the book for yourself because oh my goodness is it worth it!
“Family was a pact. Friendship was a pact. Love was a pact. Written in blood.”
“Grief is horrifyingly personal. Grief is horrifyingly generic.”
“I think of our breaking hearts sounding like the snow – so quiet we can barely hear them, but after the right amount of times we can look around and see how everything is changed. Covered.”
“…I look happy and hope it’s not an accident. Happiness, an elusive fish I cannot catch whole – only small darting flashes. Feels nasty to consider or wish for happiness. But I also know that without at least a little light, things die.”
“I can see it. Like how if you put your thumb over the end of a spraying garden hose it’ll make a rainbow. A surprise. It’s almost an accident. You have to look for it or you’ll miss it. You have to hold it perfectly still in the right light.”