Laura Dave | LibraryReads Author, June 15, 2015

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Photo by Allen Murabayashi

Not long ago, Laura Dave was hard at work on a mystery, scrabbling through five drafts in 18 months. But as she observed in a phone interview with LJ, “Sometimes, when we try to force a certain line in life, it’s a sign that it’s not working.” So she took a two-week hiatus to try something new. “The joy I felt told me that it was the right thing to do,” she explains, and she was on her way to writing the warmly bracing story of love, family, and finding oneself that became Eight ­Hundred Grapes.

That Dave seized her chance because she was open to something different and unexpected didn’t just get the novel started; it’s an idea embedded in the narrative itself. After learning that her fiancé, Ben, has been hiding a crucial secret, Georgia Ford bolts from a Los Angeles dress shop and returns to her Sonoma family home, declaring that the wedding won’t take place.

eighthundredgrapes52015She’s counting on her family’s utter support and attention but hasn’t reckoned with new directions in their own lives. Her mother seems to be forsaking her father; brothers Bobby and Finn and Bobby’s wife, Margaret, circle one another uncomfortably; and the family vineyard that her father so loved—and that has so defined the family—is being sold.

For Georgia, it’s a moment of synchronization—described in the novel as “the coordination of events to operate in union”—and it allows her to choose her own path instead of slumping back on what’s familiar. “I’ve always been interested in the idea of fate vs. agency, of how that plays into how we tell ourselves stories and get to certain points,” says Dave. Initially, Georgia is all action, trying to save the vineyard and pull her family to what it once was. But however noble her intentions, they’re all about what she thinks is best. “I wanted to explore the difference between fixing and helping, that is, letting people get there themselves,” explains Dave. “Georgia figures out what she really wants for herself only when she lets go of trying to make decisions for those she loves.”

In the end, all the characters are sorting out their “have to haves,” Dave’s felicitous phrase for that one thing an individual will fight for, with everything else then falling into its proper place. Georgia uses the phrase while pondering her future with Ben, which involves some ­realistic back and forth that makes her final, refreshingly unstarry-eyed decision as much an act of discovery for readers as it is for Georgia.

It was also an act of discovery for Dave, who likes to feel her way as she writes instead of plotting tightly in advance. “I truly didn’t know what was going to happen,” she confesses, “and I’m happy that bloggers and early readers have said they didn’t know, either, because that’s how I wanted it to feel.” Despite the romantic complications presented by Ben and suddenly surfacing corporate big shot Jacob, Eight Hundred Grapes is not a romance novel; Georgia ends up making choices not about love but about herself.

The wine country setting is hardly co­incidental, even if Dave does live in Los Angeles and spends time in Sonoma County, which she describes as gorgeously rustic and somewhat under the radar compared with Napa Valley. The Fords have a biodynamic vineyard, a self-sustaining system Dave learned about while shadowing winemakers for the book. Such systems put back into the land whatever is taken out, which Dave saw “as a metaphor for how you build a life with someone, how you build a family.” Indeed it is. As readers quickly see, the profound love shared by the Ford family members, even as they negotiate their differences, is the ground—dare one say, the terroir—on which this per­ceptive novel is built.—Barbara Hoffert

library_reads_logo_website100314Created by a group of librarians, LibraryReads offers a monthly list of ten current titles culled from nominations made by librarians nationwide as their favorites. See the June 2015 list at ow.ly/NQtt1 and contact libraryreads.org/for-library-staff/ to make your own nomination.

 

This article was published in Library Journal's June 15, 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.