There is Always a Tomorrow
by Anna Belfrage
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There is Always a Tomorrow for one lucky winner!
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Following a flurry of historical fiction and other awards, novelist Anna Belfrage’s Graham Saga series drew to its conclusion in 2015—much to the dismay of her extensive fan base. The series has a significant readability factor and, being eight installments long, followers have been drawn time and again back to the books detailing the lives of seventeenth-century native Matthew Graham, his time-travelling wife, Alex, their large family and encounters with the era’s dangers and those who exacerbate them. Readers simply cannot get enough and, looking forward to the possibility of a spinoff story here or there, are periodically wooed back with bonus material.
(As if they need to be wooed.)
Belfrage has now done one better by releasing a delightful secret, her ninth entry, There is Always a Tomorrow. Set against the backdrop of mercurial 1600s Maryland in its anti-Catholic phase, the family encounters trouble when hysteria reaches a boiling point, thanks to one of their own sons, who has betrayed a Catholic priest, their close friend, to authorities. The Grahams are torn between loyalties—their child, a friend in deep trouble and their own Presbyterian background—and creating distance between themselves and danger entails a second thread involving another son, Samuel, adopted by Quachow into a local Native tribe, whose loss Alex continues to mourn.
The tale shifts back and forth between these events and those of two Graham boys in England with their Uncle Luke, and a final storyline with threads on both sides of the Atlantic, eventually making its chaotic and potentially destructive way to Graham’s Garden.
One of the first things we noticed about Tomorrow is that despite the challenges faced by the family, they aren’t uprooted in quite the manner they have been in past tales. This is to the story’s advantage because apart from avoiding risk of a type of overexposure, Belfrage also shows her consideration for the main characters who, ehem, aren’t getting any younger. They are all too aware of this as well, though this reality doesn’t haunt them in any overly dramatic manner, and the result is a very genuine approach to acknowledging the passage of time in the series.
Despite this transition, Alex never forgets where she comes from, even if she doesn’t talk about it all that often, though readers are aware she has on occasion, to a select few people, including her favorite son, Ian. Through their growing up years, Alex has also told fairy tales, old and new—although these terms can deliciously muddy the waters if one ponders on the time travel issue too deeply—to her children, and in this installment readers are treated to a delightful acknowledgement when she asks her grandson, “Did I ever tell you the story of the magic wardrobe?” It provides a link to her native era and by extension to readers, as if to whisper through the winds of time that her fight to remain where a freak thunderstorm brought her was not a rejection of us; she had simply found the place she belonged. This provides foundation for both the romanticism of the books as well as the series’ continuity, and Belfrage’s sprinkling of the novels with such memories, or considerations of the future solidifies the connection. With the dual perception, that of Alex’s remaining twenty-first century attitudes paired with those she has developed in her new/old life, more are crafted, and what exists between readers and the Grahams grows as well, a relationship.
As always, the author’s style is one of seamless flow, and she has a marvelous ability to build so much into circumstance. Rachel, for instance, who comes to Maryland from her dark and troubled life in England, by her very name takes us back to earlier in our journey with Alex, to another little girl who once lived, another Rachel who was loved and was lost, and who also is not forgotten. As Alex remembers her girl, we mourn with her, feeling the hurt she does in her ongoing failure to make a connection with this Rachel, who represents a link not only between lands, but as well within the family, as we learn she is the daughter of another lost child.
Interestingly, her character isn’t as fleshed out as one might expect it to be, and the relaying of her young troubles seems to pass by very quickly, as if almost too easily told. Yet this has meaning as well, for her existence in historical seventeenth-century London would also have been underdeveloped as a marker of her place in society: invisible. The paradox of history being littered with the remains of figures we can’t even name is a tragedy compounded by such realities as illiteracy, a bitter reminder of what is built into human DNA to crave, and what Belfrage provides: relationships. She remains within reality, however, and though the series is a mixture of historical fiction, time slip and fantasy, she doesn’t resort to the unfeasible; relationships between all events indeed are solid and authentic, further explaining our connection and longing for more of these tales. Some of these associations are more developed than others, despite familial bonds, and not all are cherished, as is the case in real life.
“The astounding thing is that she dares voice such an opinion in my home.” Kate’s mouth shaped itself into a little spout. “An intolerable and quite useless little missy is what she is.” She sighed. “There are days when I really miss Lucy.”
“Not me.” Alex shook her head slowly. Simon’s deaf daughter had been extraordinarily beautiful, just as extraordinarily gifted, and somewhat twisted inside. And far too curious for her own good, which was why she was now gone, permanently.
Is it? you might ask. Even those who have read the installment this passage refers to automatically will be pulled back, on the surface wanting to re-experience events of this time. Also, however, they will recognize the cryptic wording and begin to wonder. Did I miss something? Was Alex involved in something untoward? If not, how much does she really know? While this and other passages may or may not lead to something extra, there are many points along the way in which we yearn for the stories again. And, as with so much of the material within Tomorrow, Belfrage’s characters themselves engage in a story about memory and self-identification, what makes them who they are. Old wounds are addressed, sometimes successfully, other times less so, and new questions rise to the surface. It is a testament to Belfrage’s skill as an author that we find no firm conclusions when we ask the universe: Does this mean there is more to come? Or is there simply much we have forgotten, or perhaps not recognized? She also manages satisfactorily to fill in new readers while simultaneously lighting that spark of I have to go back and read the others. Series veterans, perhaps bemused, might say, simply, Don’t expect that to be the only time that happens.
Perhaps the best of The Graham Saga, There is Always a Tomorrow firmly included, is that uncertain familiarity. With biblical references, by way of names, fables and more, we tap into it as much seems almost a replay of the heritage of so many: prodigal sons, feuding brothers, thirty pieces of silver, sacrifice within various contexts. These and other ancient comedies re-enacted in real life and within literature are as familiar to us as our own names, yet often so unrecognized, woven so deeply into the fabric of our beings as they are. At times it seems this is destined to continue into countless tomorrows, with the hope we can be better, make something brighter, next time. And as is the brilliance of Belfrage, this wraps itself within the time warp question and how circular it all might really be. She creates in us a sensation that hopes there is always a sequel, though this has yet to be seen, for as contradictory as it may be, all good things must end.
Or do they? Whether or not Belfrage brings us any more in the series, we sense continuity: perhaps in spinoff stories, linkage in unrelated tales, maybe even fan fiction. There certainly are re-reads, and while the books all have many levels and can be approached from a number of angles, they also may be enjoyed as straightforward stories, not to mention be destined for greatness.
To see other reviews and blogs with Anna Belfrage, click titles below:
A Rip in the Veil (Updated)
The Prodigal Son (with Chocolate Cake Author Interview)
In the Shadow of the Storm (Book I in The King’s Greatest Enemy series)
Cover Crush for A Rip in the Veil
Sunken Pie Author Interview (Of Pies, Books and Other Essentials) (Stay tuned)
Author Anna Belfrage in her own words …
I was always going to be a writer – well in between being an Arctic explorer, a crusader or Richard Lionheart’s favourite page (no double entendre intended – I was far too innocent at the time). Anyway, not for me the world of nine to five, of mortgages and salary checks. Oh no; I was going to be a free spirit, an impoverished but happy writer, slaving away in a garret room.
Life happened. (It does, doesn’t it?) I found myself the bemused holder of a degree in Business Admin, and a couple of years later I was juggling a challenging career, four kids, a husband (or was he juggling me?), a jungle of a garden, a dog, a house …. Not much time for writing there, let me tell you. At most, I stole a moment here or there.
Fortunately, kids grow up. My stolen moments became hours, became days, weeks, months … (I still work. I no longer garden – one must prioritize). It is an obsession, this writing thing. It is a joy and a miracle, a constant itch and an inroad to new people, new places, new times.
A courtesy copy of There is Always a Tomorrow was provided to the blogger to facilitate an honest review. Author image courtesy Anna Belfrage.