The Glass Forest

Written by Cynthia Swanson
Review by G. J. Berger

Married to Cary-Grant-handsome Paul and with a new baby boy, Angie Glass lives her dream in a small town by Lake Superior. Her contented life ends with a telephone call in September 1960. Angie’s 17-year-old niece, Ruby, says her own mother, Silja, has left the family home and will not come back, and that Ruby’s father (Paul’s brother, Henry) committed suicide. Over Paul’s objections, Angie insists on travelling with Paul and their young son to the carnage in upper Westchester, New York. Angie hardly knows Paul’s family. She yearns to help and comfort Ruby.

In rotating chapters, the story builds from three points of view—Angie, Ruby, and Silja—going back to World War II. Silja’s marriage to Henry is frustrated by combat wounds and Henry’s cold-fish personality. Paul becomes ever more restless as his ugly past comes to light. Ruby, rather than vulnerable and upset, appears composed, controlling. Only Angie stays true to who we think she is.

Where did Silja go? Why did she leave, will she come back home to her only daughter, and why did Henry take his own life? Why does Paul seem to push Angie away? Why is Ruby so unruffled? These questions lurk in every page of this literary portrayal of dark family relationships. They are answered in a complex thriller-paced ending. Readers of literary fiction will appreciate the details, insights into human behaviors, and social currents of the 1940s to 1960s. Unfortunately, the complicated resolutions of Henry’s death and Silja’s sudden leaving will strike some as unrealistic and forced.