Rocky Mountain High turns into Rocky Mountain Low for Madeline Dare, when she and her husband Dean move to Boulder, Colorado. At first, the former New Yorker is intrigued and enchanted by the relaxed, wholesome pace of the bucolic town, but she soon finds herself dissatisfied, lonely and bored. As the stay-at-home mom struggles to raise their one year old twins, Dean travels the world, eating in fine restaurants and leaving Madeline to share too many mac and cheese dinners with the twins. Convinced that she needs to get out of the house and try to regain some of the feelings of self-worth she had when she was working, she accepts a job writing an occasional restaurant review for a local newspaper. Her editor asks her to expand her writing duties by covering fires set by an arsonist and Madeline is drawn into dangerous territory. While she enjoys the opportunity to interact with adults, her devotion to her twins never falters. Since she’d never bothered to get a Colorado driver’s license, she carts them from home to stores and doctors’ appointments in a red wagon, seeing that they are impeccably dressed and fully supplied with cheese nips and juice boxes.
Her housekeeping skills, while never stellar, suffer since her first priority is to be a loving and nurturing mother. When Dean harshly criticizes her, the reader begins to suspect that he is hiding something, but Madeline is oblivious to his change in behavior and blames herself, sinking deeper into self-loathing and despair. Tragedy strikes close to home, forcing Madeline to snap out of her misery and once again become a tough, resourceful woman.
Cornelia Read’s Madeline Dare has a loyal following of readers who were eager to see how she would handle the demands of motherhood, but this book appeals to the rest of us who are neither mothers nor familiar with the character. Madeline is smart, witty, well-bred, well- educated, observant and perceptive. All those attributes seem to desert her, though, when dealing with her husband. Her irreverent sarcasm and wry comments, interlaced with off the cuff profanity suggest that she is resilient, while appearing to be vulnerable. Hillary Huber does an excellent job of conveying the ambivalence Madeline exhibits. She makes her at various times and under diverse conditions, both majestic and mousy.
Valley of Ashes is an entertaining and thought-provoking story. Madeline’s commentary on life and motherhood is often hilarious and always insightful. Initially, I was disturbed by her seemingly submissive attitude toward her husband, but on reflection, I think that she is probably like many women who do not perceive themselves nearly as positively as others do. Read was able to resolve this issue in such a satisfying way that I think many woman will relate to Madeline’s personal journey and will find the inspiration to address their own uncertainties, moving forward for greater inner peace and happiness.
Valley of Ashes by Cornelia Read
Read by Hillary Huber
Hachette audio, unabridged: 11.25 hours