THE DAY HE FOUND YOU IN THE WOODS
October 2, 1960
Nathan McCann stood in his dark kitchen a good two hours before dawn. He flipped on the overhead light, halfway hoping to see the coffeemaker all set up with water and grounds and waiting to be plugged in and set to percolating. Instead, he saw the filter basket lying empty in the dish drain, looking abandoned and bare. (WHEN I FOUND YOU)
The opening paragraph of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s When I Found You hooked me gently. In only three sentences, with no action on stage, the author brought to vivid life a lonely man in a pre-dawn kitchen.
That first paragraph is sprinkled with evocative words that speak to me of loss and loneliness: hoping, waiting, empty, abandoned, bare. My imagination paints a picture of a wife or lover who once set the coffeemaker ready for Nathan’s early rising. Nathan’s halfway hoping whispers that it’s been a long time since he woke to a ready-to-go coffeemaker.
Such a small, powerful symbol of a neglected relationship.
I had read the book blurb before making my purchase, and I knew Nathan would soon find an abandoned baby in the woods, near death. The chapter’s title tells me he’ll find the child today.
Keeping me poised on that precipice of drama and action, word by word, image by image, the author gently tweaks my curiousity about Nathan and his life by dropping meaningful breadcrumbs of information.
Why he always expevcted otherwise, he wasn’t sure. It had been years since Flora set up a coffee for him on these early mornings. Decades since she rose early with him to serve fried eggs and orange juice and toast.
I imagine three decades of slowly growing neglect … and yet in the next paragraph…
Quietly, so as not to wake her, he took a box of oat flake cereal down from the cupboard, then stood in the cold rush of air from the icebox and poured skim milk into a yellow plastic bowl.
You don’t have to be so quiet, he thought to himself. Flora was in her bedroom at the far end of the hall with the door closed.
Cold and icebox signal an absence of love, reinforced by the closed door at the far end of the hall. Yet Nathan exercises care not to disturb her sleep. The author has painted a brilliant portrait of a steadfast man in a desssicated marraige. Then, lest the reader think Nathan himself lacks warmth, Catherine Ryan Hyde brings another character into the mix.
Nathan’s dog, Sadie, has seen the light from the window, and Nathan hears her excited jumping against the fence of her enclosure. With Sadie’s offstage entrance, the mood is transformed with skillful use of words like: awake, ready-to-go, excited, sunrise, jumped, hit.
That short first scene closes with Sadie and Flora starkly contrasted in Nathan’s thoughts.
He often wished he could bring her into the house with him – Sadie who gave so readily of her time an attention. But Flora wlould have none of it.
I loved the beginning of this beautiful novel. I wanted more of Nathan’s quiet gentleness, his lack of criticism of Flora despite his loneliness, and his love for his dog.
Man and dog were about to head out duck hunting, but I knew they were on a hero’s mission, to save an abandoned infant lying in the woods, near death. True to his character in that opening scene, when Nathan and Sadie saved that baby, the man didn’t think of himself as a hero. Sadie was the only hero in his mind.
The beginning of this book hooked me solidly, and the rest of the book fulfilled the author’s promise, as you can see from the following reviewers quotes. You can see more on the author’s website:
Set over a period of forty years, and told from the perspective of two very different men, this is a stunning piece of fiction that explores family ties that go beyond a pure genetic relationship. Fans of Jodi Picoult will enjoy this well-crafted story that is impossible to put down. (The Book Bag, 5 stars)
Gripping tale of a boy raised at a distance…an engaging and touching read. (The Cambridge Review)
When I Found You is probably one of my favourite books of 2009—if not ever. It is well worth reading and I wholly recommend it. (Chick Lit Review, 5 stars)
Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of the international best selling Pay It Forward, has written another great book. If you love great fiction about real human relationships, you’ll love this book.