Reviewed by Jennifer Dupree, Circulations Supervisor at Windham Public Library
Full disclosure: Susan Conley is one of my writing mentors, and I have a lot of respect and admiration for her. That said, I wouldn’t say I liked a book unless I truly liked it, and I loved “Elsey Come Home”.
This is a quiet, gently emotional book about a woman living in China with her family and struggling with how to be a wife, mother, and artist. As the novel opens, Elsey’s husband, Lukas, suggests she needs help for her excessive drinking, and he urges her to attend a retreat in the mountains of China. Elsey does, and there she meets others who are at the retreat for their own reasons. Elsey stops drinking and the story becomes even more reflective.
Conley weaves Elsey’s present with her past. We learn about her sister’s childhood death and Elsey’s early life as a painter. We feel the pressure she feels, the sadness when she doesn’t live up to her own expectations. Elsey returns home sober but unsettled from the retreat.
This is a novel about place, about how we define “home.” For Elsey, home is Maine where she was raised, and home is China where she has lived for several years. But, ultimately, home for Elsey is her husband and two daughters, which is I think what resonates the most with me. Home is more people than place.