Clarion Rating: 4 out of 5
Landslide is a hopeful and sympathetic story about friendship, loss, and growing up.
Melissa Leet’s Landslide is the moving story of two childhood friends, Jill and Susie. The narrative follows Jill as she navigates the trials of growing up; Susie is her sounding board. The story jumps in time between adolescence and young adulthood.
Jill and her mother live in an idyllic setting, near a vast garden laid out into many “rooms,” all with special themes. Here, Jill often seeks solace when life blooms in unexpected ways. With her bold and daring friend Susie to ground her, Jill endures angst and loss while ensconced in the comfort of the garden. Susie also finds comfort in Jill’s garden, where she goes to escape from her mother’s drinking.
Garden work unites Jill and her mother, soothing tension over the absence of Jill’s father, Jay, who is a busy photographer. Jill struggles to understand her parents’ unconventional relationship and is plagued throughout the story by her conflicting feelings.
As major events unfold, including family struggles, death, and new love, Jill and Susie support each other through their doubt, pain, and confusion. Two challenging, heartbreaking sections come in the aftermath of unexpected and impactful deaths that shape Jill’s approach to life, creating obstacles for her—particularly around love and its inherent vulnerability.
When the story moves to Jill’s adulthood, focus shifts to her romantic bond with Charlie. Theirs is an undeniable, instant connection that leads to a comfortable relationship, though Jill questions whether she can be vulnerable with Charlie. Jill must decide whether she will embrace success and love or inadvertently sabotage both. During one especially fraught period, she escapes to the family garden for strength and clarity.
The story is largely an examination of how Jill’s childhood and traumas shape her. She grows into a successful entrepreneur with a thriving business designing garden furniture; Susie becomes a journalist. The details of their working lives give the story a credible contemporary edge.
Jill and Susie are characters worth rooting for as they find their way toward grounded lives.The women anchor each other, acting as the mirrors that each other needs to face life’s challenges. Supporting characters, including Charlie and Jay, are compelling and quirky, and their foibles add to the women’s lives.
The dialogue is resonant and realistic. Themes of grief and resilience are focal points that are explored in depth; they define Jill’s life. Her emotions are close at hand in her thoughts and as the reason for her actions.
The structure of the story, with its jumping back and forth in time, is effective, as each section fills out the others with added detail and background. Childhood events impact and explain each woman’s approach to her adult life, and bring depth to their characters.
The story is satisfying in its unflinching authenticity, especially as challenges are confronted and Jill’s struggles are explored. No character is without flaws, yet all have good intentions.
Landslide is a hopeful and sympathetic story about friendship, loss, and growing up, with gratifying elements of drama and romance.
The Bookbag Review
“The area where Jill and Susie lived wasn’t highly populated so it was fortunate that they became such good friends, despite the fact that Susie was a year older than Jill. Susie lived with her mother, an alcoholic, and Jill lived with her mother, who dedicated herself to her garden. Jill’s father was Jay Tutle, the photographer, but he spent much of his time working away – often for months on end. In reality there was little difference between the two families: Mrs Smith’s alcoholism caused serious illness whilst Susie was still young. Joy and tragedy would visit Jill’s home. Landslide is the story of how what happened determined the course of Jill’s life and how great tragedy can breed resilience and hope.
I was surprised to find that this is a debut novel: Melissa Leet has delivered a very accomplished story, which neatly cuts between Jill and Susie’s childhoods and the lives they lived as adults. Jill is late to enter into a sexual relationship and reluctant to commit to giving it any sort of future. She’s adamant that she doesn’t want children. Susie had a peripatetic childhood because of her mother’s illness: it carries through into her adult life. She doesn’t have Jill’s hangups about sex or children. Can Jill come to terms with the almost total lack of a father during her childhood? Can she forgive Jay for putting his passion for photography before her and her mother?
Characterisation is excellent: Jill and Susie not only came alive for me as I read, they both stayed in my mind long after I’d turned the final page. Having grown up in a large garden (and her mother’s garden is seriously large) Jill relies on the redemptive power of nature and this is reflected in the business which she creates as an adult: she’s a well-thought-out and carefully created character whom you could well imagine knowing in real life. You can understand her. The garden itself is a character: it has rooms and there’s even a map to guide you through it. The garden’s pro-active in the story rather than just an inert feature of the landscape. I loved that!
I liked the story too and particularly the way that the importance of family constantly resurfaces. Each of the main characters (and some of the minor ones) have families behind them. They’re not all perfect but there’s a constancy of support which warms the heart. There’s tragedy in the story – more than one person should have to stand – and I did wonder if I was going to finish the story on a sad note, particularly as towards to end I really couldn’t turn the pages quickly enough as it seemed that tragedy would strike again, but I was surprised by an ending which I really didn’t see coming and which left me feeling quite uplifted.” – Sue Magee
David Marx: Book Reviews
The woman across was obese, her thighs bulging inside beige polyester. A low-cut clinging top revealed mounds of breast. She looked decidedly groggy; I guessed that it took several of those extra-large coffees she was drinking just to get her going in the morning. I wondered if her weight affected her ability to become pregnant.
There is something, if not a whole to be said for fiction writing that is essentially simple, to the point, and merely conveys what needs to be conveyed. As sometimes, when there is no hifalutin flim-flam – that more-often-than not arrives by way of superfluous description – that being said, or in this case, written, accounts for far more.
In other words, the less is (far) more approach.
Or, if you are wanting to get all Hollywood (or Malpaso) about it, the Clint Eastwood approach to fiction; as in, why say or write three words, when one will do?
Such is very much the case with Melissa Leet’s Landslide, the story of Jill and lifelong friend Susie, who, for want of a perhaps more descriptive term, come of age in a remote mountain garden. The trajectorial realm of which has many rooms, each of which, is a showcase of design by the protagonist’s mother. But when unexpected tragedy strikes, the question is: wherein does a child find the strength (not to mention the resilience) to fundamentally continue?
These 399 pages not only reveal how; but reveal all.
As the author of The Nightlife, Elise Paschen, has since written: ‘’Such a magical world of love, family, loss, and renewal, Melissa Leet has created in Landslide! I love the deep humanity of this novel, its generosity of spirit, its faith in the self and the self’s interrelationship with others and with the invisible universe […].’’
As such, if it is spirit you are after, then read this.