Title: The Ninth Step by Barbara Taylor Sissel
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 306 pdf pages
Book Rating: B
Review Copy Obtained from Publisher Through NetGalley
A novel of timeless love, loss, and family and the steps we must take for forgiveness.
Livie Saunders is fluent in the language of flowers; she taught the meanings to her fiancé, Cotton O’Dell, but then Cotton vanished without explanation on their wedding day forcing Livie to learn the language of desolation. Heartbroken, she buries her wedding gown beneath a garden pond and she resolves to move on, but there are nights when she slips . . . into a sequined red dress and a pair of stiletto heels, a stranger’s bed, a little anonymous oblivion that is not without consequence. Still, she recovers a semblance of ordinary life and imagines herself content. After all, Cotton told her to forget about him. Livie even maintains a friendship with Delia, Cotton’s mother, whom he also abandoned without a word of explanation.
Then, six years later, an unsigned card and a bouquet of irises signal Cotton’s presence, but his reunion with Livie isn’t as joyous as he had hoped. While she struggles to forgive him, Livie can’t hide her own past and how she has changed since Cotton left.
Meanwhile, Cotton is still haunted by the crime that caused him to flee…a crime for which the legal clock is still ticking. For a moment, it seems they can both forget the past and rebuild their lives together, but then Cotton goes missing again.
Time telescopes, avenues of escape close, and as lives hang in the balance, choice teeters between mercy and revenge. And a decision that will take only a moment will carry the consequences of a lifetime.
THE NINTH STEP is a story of redemption, of being brought to your knees to face a monstrous error and somehow finding the strength to make it right. Even if that effort breaks your heart, endangers your freedom, and ultimately threatens your life.
Barbara Taylor Sissel’s novel The Ninth Step is an engrossing and thought-provoking novel about loss, forgiveness and making amends for past mistakes. With Cotton O’Dell’s return, he and Livie Saunders are forced to confront their disastrous pasts as they struggle to rebuild their lives.
Ms. Sissel masterfully develops her characters with realistic flaws and imperfections. Cotton and Livie carry the scars from their dysfunctional upbringings. Following Cotton’s abandonment on their wedding day, Livie indulges in meaningless sexual encounters to comfort her and Cotton’s search for solace from his horrible mistakes results in alcohol addiction. As the story progresses, Livie faces the consequences of her recent actions while Cotton’s decisions set in motion a series of events that end with devestating results.
Now a recovering alcoholic, Cotton is working the ninth step of AA-making amends to the people he has harmed. It is with this step that Cotton is faced with a moral dilemma. Can he make amends without causing further harm? Will confessing his crime right a wrong? Are there things that are impossible to forgive? Do we ask forgiveness to make ourselves feel better? Or do we seek forgiveness for the sake of the one who wronged us? Do we grant forgiveness for ourselves or for those who have hurt us? Ms. Sissel raises these various questions in an unbiased and thoughtful manner.
Equally interesting is how the various characters deal with the emotional baggage of their childhoods. Some choose to walk away. Others seem to gloss over the worst of their pasts. A few remain hopeful that the past can be rectified in the present. Is it possible to leave a painful childhood unscathed? Are we doomed to repeat our parents’ behavior and mistakes?
Although the subject matter is serious, the overall tone of The Ninth Step is never heavy or angsty. The novel is contemplative and reflective with Barbara Taylor Sissel raising some soul-searching questions that do not always have clear cut answers. It is a beautifully executed story that is poignant yet hopeful as the characters come to terms with their tragic pasts.