Review: Wisler's second a lesson in writing through pain
BY DAWN BAUMGARTNER VAUGHAN : The Herald-Sun
Jun 21, 2009
"How Sweet It Is"
By Alice Wisler
(Bethany House, 309 pages, softcover, $13.99)
Deena Livingston can't move on. Or get past it. She's just trying to get through it. What other option is there when your fiance almost kills you in a car wreck, then never visits you in the hospital, where you find out he's dating someone else. Deena is left with multiple scars -- deep rivers on her arms and emotional damage that won't seem to heal.
Enter the opportunity to move away from Atlanta to the mountains of Bryson City. The bad memories follow, but new memories are created, thanks to her late grandfather. Deena teaches cooking classes to troubled middle school students at her grandfather's behest, and she starts her own cake business.
"How Sweet It Is" is the second novel of Durham author Alice J. Wisler -- herself a baker of cakes.
There are pieces of Wisler in the novel, in terms of circumstance. Her 4-year-old son died, and she teaches a class in writing through pain. Deena writes through her own pain in a journal. Wisler once ran a cake business from home like Deena. And Wisler has a bachelor's degree in social work and worked with emotionally challenged children.
Her last novel, "Rain Song," also had personal elements. The setting is Mt. Olive, which Wisler had passed through, and the main character also lived in Japan, as did Wisler. She has spent the past 21 years in Durham and has three children.
Wisler's publisher, Bethany House, is a Christian fiction imprint. Religion is woven into the story in location and Deena's thoughts. The youth center where Deena teaches is in her church, and Bible verses posted throughout serve as reminders to Deena as well as the kids. And in Deena's own thoughts, she thinks how she is all the things she shouldn't be -- angry, jealous, unforgiving. Yet she also prays for things both trivial and serious about herself and reaches out to God for strength.
Faith is an undercurrent that bubbles up here and there throughout the novel as Deena deals with her new life. She constantly doubts herself. The words outside of quotes are her real self, while what she says aloud is guarded and cautious. She has flaws, which readers might find appealing in the sense that Deena isn't so different from the rest of the world. Everyone has negative thoughts. Everyone has a hard time getting through difficult times. Everyone jumps to conclusions about others until they get to know them better. Wisler shares these ideas in a casual way, a natural way as Deena's story unfolds. It is light and easy reading, but it deals with serious topics most of us face at some point in our lives.
Deena takes comfort in food, and in the faint presence of her grandfather. She didn't know him much at all, but learns about him through what he has given her -- his cabin, a job at the youth center, a letter about life, and a sense of home. She also gains family that isn't so guarded. Her aunt -- her dad's sister -- welcomes her openly and knits a family bond with her. That is new to Deena, whose mother kept her from her in-laws and urged her to keep her emotions bottled up. That makes it even harder for Deena to consider a new life, with a potential new love, a social worker she meets at the center. He tries to draw her out, but she is most relaxed around the local plumber, Jonas, who has his own mental challenges but keen insight.
Wisler gives readers the story of a woman who tries to find her way to recovery and forgiveness, with sweetness that is subtle but real.