Reviewed by Amy Gruzesky
Using travel as a common theme, author Marylee MacDonald introduces readers to characters that are strong, vulnerable, weak, compromised, and compromising in this collection of twelve short stories.
Their relationships are not perfect; some are even volatile and involve mistreatment. In others, one or both characters seem to be settling in order to remain in the relationship, but are they settling or simply choosing to accept their significant others in their entirety, flaws and all? It is in these conflicted relationships, skillfully portrayed by MacDonald, that we see real human emotion and how people react in imperfect situations.
The travel component complicates their situations even more, as many are in foreign lands and therefore somewhat dependent on each other, especially in “Pancho Villa’s Coin,” where a mother and her young daughter are traveling through Mexico with their husband and father, a stern, volatile man whose bad temper is exacerbated when he drinks, which is often. You want them to leave, question why they don’t or haven’t, cheer when it appears they are going to do just that, then lament when circumstances beyond their control force them to make a choice between one bad situation or another.
In the title story, “Bonds of Love & Blood,” the main character is traveling solo in Turkey, where she has an unexpected fling with the owner of a rug shop. As she prepares to depart, she learns that she and her lover have more than just their fling in common; they each have a wayward brother that has gotten in trouble with the law. She is faced with a decision: help her lover help his brother get out of prison, or simply leave. The situation unexpectedly forces her to come to grips with her relationship and history with her own brother and the mistakes she made with him, and that influences what she does next.
One aspect of these stories that I truly liked is that although the settings are in foreign lands, they aren’t the typical breathtakingly beautiful, perfect touristy locations.
These characters might be in interesting and beautiful foreign lands, but they find themselves in locations in these countries that aren’t picture perfect–a rundown motel in Mexico, a deserted, smelly beach in Thailand, a remote cabin in the Canadian forest during a horrific winter storm–a fitting mirror for their imperfect situations and relationships.
Their relationships are not story-book romances or picture perfect families, and are often driven by circumstances, the outside world, their emotional and physical needs, and their oftentimes conflicting feelings and emotions toward one another–just like everyone else’s. Some of them settle or make the wrong choices for the sake of comfort and safety. Some choose what they do to avoid upheaval or because they don’t believe the grass will be greener.
I found myself wondering why some of the characters made the choices they did, and then I realized it is in the very title of the book: Bonds of Love & Blood, two of the ties that bind us to one another, and perhaps the strongest ones of all.