Ties that Bind by Debbie White is the moving and epic novel about a woman trying to uncover her past in order to understand herself. Pat has a sense of gnawing dissatisfaction in her life given that she’s adopted and never met her birth parents. Her children are deprived of extended family and Pat is deprived of answers. When she seeks out to find answers to all her questions, she finds a hidden contentment she didn’t know she had.
Pat is a wonderfully engaging and comforting presence in the book. Even when White is describing her hardships, Pat has a sense of calm and strength that is reassuring. She’s not really a mess who eventually fixes herself. She a strong person who finds the life she deserves.
If the book has a weakness it’s that Pat’s story is fairly rushed. The novel covers decades of information within only a few pages, giving big chunks of the book the feel of an extended introduction. Pat’s story goes from childhood to new job to marriage to deaths in the family to having kids and more within 10 or 20 pages. Certainly, Pat is an appealing enough character that we could learn more detail about her life along the way without bogging down the book in too much detail. It would make her story all the more emotional.
This lack of detail requires the reader to fill in some of the blanks. For example, Pat discusses having suffered through the Depression – which would make the book take place in the 30’s onward. She also mentions how this was the time before Google so it’s harder to find her adoptive parents. But there’s not a lot of other detail suggesting just what era it is at any given time. At one point she suddenly gets a computer, which would put it some time in the nineties (if she’s using the Internet), but there’s been no historical context to that point to suggest there’s been such a huge leap forward in time. This is another case where more description would color in the novel, rather than slow it down.
However, this breeziness does often work in the novel’s favor. As White chooses not to linger on any one moment too long, the book is ever-changing and keeps up momentum. There’s something comforting about learning about a life from on high – we are defined by the big events in our lives, so we get a clear window into who she is as a person. Certainly, White could have lingered on some of these events a bit longer, but Pat has a likable and self-assured voice that it’s captivating to read where the book takes her next.
What binds the book together is White’s empathy for her characters, and how Pat’s story is so hopeful and optimistic. Though Pat is disillusioned with her current life and feel something’s missing, she comes to appreciate all she has, and her journey of self-discovery is a comforting one. In the end, Pat’s story feels like a life fully lived and it’s a gratifying and enjoyable read to experience it with her.
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