Rapunzel’s Window by Cheryl Lanning is described on its front cover as “a novel of secret obsession”, but that hardly begins to summarize the novel. It is actually a complex story about the secrets that exist in a small town.
The novel opens with the reader being made aware of a sinister person peeping in a window. Who is this person, and what are his intentions? His mysterious presence is noted a couple other times in the early parts of the novel; the reader is always aware he is there, but the characters are unaware of how he is prying into their personal lives, learning secrets he may later use against them.
After the short prologue, the novel introduces Tom Pope, a reporter who has just moved to the small town of Haver in Upper Michigan. He has taken over operation of the local newspaper following the death of its former owner, Jody Somes. In taking over the paper, Tom also becomes well-acquainted with Agnes, Jody Somes’s widow; Tom learns that for the last part of his life, Jody Somes was in a wheelchair, after someone in his household shot him; the family, Jody included, have covered up the shooting as an accident, but the reasons behind the shooting eventually unravel as Tom finds himself falling in love with Agnes.
Despite the sinister presence of the character peeping in at windows, the novel’s real tone is set when Tom and Agnes are first introduced. The author invites us into Agnes’s world, that of a Southern Belle who has come to Upper Michigan; Agnes’s home and her interests are exquisitely described in a manner that invites the reader into the home, building up an aura about Agnes that completely convinces the reader why Tom Pope would fall in love with her. As Tom learns more about Agnes and her husband’s mysterious accident, the reader discovers more about Tom’s past, his near selfdestruction as an alcoholic, and his successful recovery as he reclaimed his journalism career. Tom and Agnes’s individual pain heals as they begin to accept one another’s love.
Tom and Agnes are the novel’s main characters, but they do not completely dominate the story. While I found it a little difficult to keep track of all the characters, and I wished a character list were provided at the book’s beginning, this large character cast really added to the novel’s fascination. Lanning perfectly depicts life in a small town by giving us background information on many of the characters and how their lives intertwine. The novel instantly reminded me of Willa Cather’s description of small towns: “In little towns, lives roll along so close to one another; loves and hates beat about, their wings almost touching.” Many of the characters in Rapunzel’s Window have secrets, and the shadowy figure lurking outside their windows learns these secrets, then writes threatening letters to upbraid people for immoral behavior. This mentally unbalanced character poses himself as a concerned citizen, but he has his own secrets that ultimately cause him to act in a shocking manner as the novel reaches its climax.
While Rapunzel’s Window may be classified as a thriller or suspense novel, it transcends similar novels in the detail and depth the author provides about her many characters, their town, and their personal lives. Suspense exists in the book, but it occurs within a realistic world that is completely believable. Many suspense novels’ conclusions move into the realm of the exaggerated in an attempt to create cheap thrills. Instead, Lanning does not test the reader’s suspension of disbelief but allows events to follow their logical outcomes based on the psychology of the characters. Lanning replaces sensationalism with good judgment and a concern for her characters.
Rapunzel’s Window is Lanning’s first novel. According to her website and the novel’s back cover, she has become a novelist at the age of seventy-two after a successful career teaching writing and journalism. I can well imagine many students benefited from her instruction considering the ivory smoothness of her prose. Her journalism background shows throughout the novel in her depiction of Tom Pope and his operation of a newspaper. Lanning has told me she is currently working on a two more novels that will create a trilogy out of Rapunzel’s Window. These novels will dig deeper into the characters’ secrets and origins with surprising and illuminating results. I am sure Lanning’s readers will be impatient for the sequels.
For more information about the phenomenal first novel, Rapunzel’s Window, and how to purchase it, visit the author’s website at www.potagannissingbaypublishing.com.
- Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., author of The Marquette Trilogy, MQT Reviews
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