An opening scene with flowers, pleasant countryside and the company of enjoyable people draws the reader quickly in Barbara Taylor Sissel’s The Ninth Step. Hints of mystery and past hurts are subtly drawn, adding depth. And then the deadly spiral starts. By now the reader is hooked and those pages have to turn. No matter how bleak the prospects, somehow the writing holds a promise of hope, and an attachment to these very real and wounded characters keeps the reader seeking that hope.
The story covers abandonment, betrayal, drunk driving, guilt and healing—a powerful human landscape overlaid on small-town Texas scenery. Cotton, who failed to turn up at the altar, is quietly back on the scene. Wes who lost his wife to a drunk driver is holding things together. And Livie, still clinging to hopes long lost, is like a flower blooming in the wrong sort of soil, still struggling through, still beautiful, still worth rooting for.
There are no simple answers in this novel, and there are lots of very real, very complex issues. Grief doesn’t wash away, broken lives don’t magically mend, and confession might not be as good for the soul at it’s portrayed. The ninth step of the title comes from Cotton’s AA meetings, but the story comes from gritty reality and powerful imagination. In the end, even honesty might not be the best policy, but readers are left to draw their own conclusions while life moves forward into the promise of hope and future, with flowers, pleasant scenery and the company of enjoyable people.
Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest review