by Joe Shea
AR Book Review Editor
February 5, 2012
'YOU NEVER KNOW' IS A QUIET MASTERPIECE
BRADENTON, Fla. -- I enjoyed "No Urn for the Ashes," a short, well-written novel by Alison Sawyer Current. A potter and animal activist, her first novel has charted the adventures and misadventures of a small group of friends and family challenged by secrets, murder, suicide and kidnapping. All this surrounds the death of a scientist and the loss of his final discovery: a formula for a new form of energy.
The book is set in Boulder, Colo.; Isla de Mujeres (Isle of Women) off Cancun, Mexico; and a small hamlet called Nederland in the Colorado foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Eight years ago in a small cabin in Nederland, a frustrated fellow scientist kills Tennyson, who's discovered an energy source that can set the world free from oil and gas companies, as Tennyson is tending his infant girl, Rebecca, while Tennyson's wife, Taylor, is down in Boulder.
When he sets the cabin afire after the murder, the killer-scientist, in a last-minute gasp of regret, takes the baby and lets the baby's father's corpse burn. Taylor, the baby's mother, is told that the fire was an accident and that her daughter, unfortunately, was probably taken by wildlife and consumed.
Meanwhile, the killer-scientist takes the baby to a long-lost half-sister, Patricia, in Ontario, Canada, where the remote town and farm where Patricia lives are carefully woven into her everyday life and the community's. The killer never visits the baby again, and she grows up a charming, bright and well-mannered little girl.
Over the month or so of the main story, Tennyson's wife, Taylor - with the selfless help of friends Ruby, Jeannie, Diane and Shane - discovers her child is alive, and now in the custody of a surrogate mother.
She is Patricia, a lonely and caring single woman who is deeply devoted to the child. She's named her Emma. For Taylor, it's a body blow to learn that her husband was murdered, that her wealthy father, a New York City attorney, has been tracking but ignoring her for years, and that her husband's brother is a diabolical man she mistook as a new friend.
The book explores the relationships between all of these players and several more with unusual skill. What it does not do, however, is explore the energy secret beyond a few paragraphs haphazardly devoted to a set of discs that may or may not contain the dead Tennyson's secret formula. That aspect of the story is left untouched; perhaps the author would consider a sequel?
That deliberate oversight would seem to be a fatal flaw, especially to a reader like myself who is fascinated and eager to read new secret-energy-formula novels that are so few and far between today. Yet it was not so flawed here, because the continuing exploration of relationships is really interesting. Best of all, you see private, normal women in the public template of fiction as they go about newly mysterious and complicated, dangerous lives - at least for a month.
"No Urn for the Ashes" is warmly recommended for its appeal to those who would try to understand the dynamics of men, women, friends and family and the secret formula of sisterhood.