"The Cactus" Review for Yakima Herald by Emily Ring

I am, at best, a half-hearted reader of the genre formally known as “women’s fiction” (colloquially, “chick lit”). I tend to resent the assumption that, just because I’m a woman, and a mother, my experiences are universal and easily boiled downed to a formulaic story with a predictable plot and a happy ending.

Every so often, though, a book comes along that challenges my perception of the genre. Sarah Haywood’s charming, funny, poignant debut, “The Cactus,” is that rare gem, a story of womanhood and motherhood that is never reductive and seldom predictable.

Susan Green (don’t call her Suze or Suzie) is 45 and a self-made woman. Rigid, controlling and self-contained, she lives a strictly regimented life, relying on no one but herself, close to no one but her aging mother, whom she visits regularly and whom she imagines couldn’t get on without her.

Then, in rapid succession, two events knock her well-organized life completely off the rails. First, she finds out she is pregnant, the result of a long-term but casual and emotionally neutral relationship. Then her mother dies suddenly and leaves her house in the sole possession of Susan’s immature, crass, disreputable younger brother, Edward.

Having counted on her half of the proceeds of the sale of her mother’s home to help support her impending offspring — and indignant over her mother’s betrayal — Susan contests the will. The legal battle that ensues pulls Susan further out of her comfort zone, leading to unexpected friendships with her brother’s college friend, Rob, and Kate, a newly single mother of two small children who lives below her.

It also brings some long-buried family secrets into the light, forcing Susan to confront the series of events that caused her to close herself off to the possibility of love, support and companionship. As the birth of her child approaches, everything that Susan believes about herself and the life she has built is called into question.

“The Cactus” is supported by the strength of its thoughtfully drawn, tangibly real characters. Prickly as the cacti that she grows (somewhat unsuccessfully), Susan manages, somehow, to become a likeable character, despite her stridency and self-righteousness. In her desperate need to avoid caring for and relying on others — and allowing them to thereby control her — and her blissful ignorance about the messiness of parenthood, she is heartbreakingly relatable.

The supporting cast are equally appealing: kind, thoughtful Rob, a talented gardener who cultivates a friendship with Susan with the same care that he would use with a struggling seedling; and frazzled but shrewd Kate, who helps Susan understand the difference between asking for help and being weak. Even nasty, combative brother Edward and Susan’s vain and vapid Aunt Sylvia reveal unexpectedly deep veins of sympathetic development.

In the end, “The Cactus” is a surprisingly substantive read, confronting inevitable truths about life and motherhood with grace, empathy and sparkling wit. It’s a proud addition to the genre of women’s fiction, and a worthy of gracing almost any woman’s bookshelf.

• “The Cactus” by Sarah Haywood was published by Park Row in January. It retails for $26.99.

Ben Mayo

Saturday, June 16, 2018 - 2:00pm to 4:00pm

Join us for a meet-and-greet with local author and teacher, Ben Mayo, and his book, Volume 3 of his Pun What's the Difference BetweenTrilogy, "What's the Difference Between...?" 

The Great American Read

THE GREAT AMERICAN READ is an eight-part PBS series that explores and celebrates the power of reading, told through the prism of America’s 100 best-loved novels (as chosen in a national survey).  It investigates how and why writers create their fictional worlds, how we as readers are affected by these stories, and what these 100 different books have to say about our diverse nation and our shared human experience.

Chris and Kyle Bolton, author and illustrator of Smash 2: Fearless

Saturday, July 7, 2018 - 2:00pm

  Inklings is delighted to welcome Chris and Kyle Bolton, author and illustrator of Smash 2: Fearless!

SMASH 2: Fearless Cover Image
By Chris A. Bolton, Kyle Bolton (Illustrator)
$11.99
ISBN: 9781536200355
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Candlewick - May 8th, 2018

SMASH: Trial by Fire Cover Image
By Chris A. Bolton, Kyle Bolton (Illustrator)
$11.99
ISBN: 9780763654061
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Candlewick - May 8th, 2018

NEW Diary of a Wimpy Kid

The official title and cover of Book 13, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Meltdown have just been revealed!

PREORDER now, On sale October 30th!

Lauren Danner, author of Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Park

Wednesday, March 28, 2018 - 7:00pm to 8:00pm

  Inklings Bookshop, in collaboration with the Cascadians, is delighted to welcome Lauren Danner for a signing and presentation.

Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Park Cover Image
$29.95
ISBN: 9780874223521
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Washington State University Press - September 2017

Storytime with the cast of IKE Drama's production of Seussical

Saturday, March 3, 2018 - 1:00pm to 2:00pm

We are delighted to welcome the cast of IKE Drama's production of Seussical: The Musical for a special storytime featuring the works of Dr. Seuss!  

Laura Titzer, author of No Table Too Small

Saturday, March 17, 2018 - 1:00pm to 2:30pm

Laura is a community food organizer and facilitator who strives to create spaces for people to think about their interactions within the community.

No Table Too Small: Engaging in the Art and Attitude of Social Change Cover Image
$22.74
ISBN: 9780692985489
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Laura Titzer - August 24th, 2017

Leslye Walton, author of The Price Guide to the Occult

Tuesday, March 20, 2018 - 7:00pm to 8:00pm

​Leslye Walton was born in the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps because of this, Leslye has developed a strange kinship with the daffodil--she too can only achieve beauty after a long, cold sulk in the rain. She was named a William C.

The Price Guide to the Occult Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9780763691103
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Candlewick - March 13th, 2018

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender Cover Image
$8.99
ISBN: 9780763680275
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Candlewick - September 22nd, 2015

Kirsten Schowalter, author of In My Own Skin

Sunday, February 18, 2018 - 2:00pm

Kirsten Schowalter was born in Minnesota, but calls many locations -- from Seattle, Washington to Marshfield, Wisconsin -- her home. Upon her high school graduation, she attended her father’s Alma Mater: St. Olaf College. Subsequent to her college years, she moved to Yakima, Washington for the company of family and mountains.

Pages

Subscribe to Inklings Bookshop RSS