Charlotte Holmes’s The Grass Labyrinth weaves an equally heartwarming and heartbreaking path through the intertwined lives of its characters. It explores the consequences of passion and the difficulties of an artistic life. The stories span thirty years and the consequences we read about unfold through generations of one painter’s wives, lovers, and children.
Kerry, first a lover, then a wife, and eventually the mother of one of Henry’s children, remarks after his passing, “I see now that Henry wanted me to learn all I could about the world without ever being bruised by it.” Her life becomes incredibly interwoven in the artistic struggles that seem to plague the friends and family of her Henry. She asks him once, near the end of his days, “If you had it to do over, would you unravel it?” Henry looks at her for a long time and says, “You know I wouldn’t.” This is a pattern that steamrolls its way through the character in these stories. The hearts of these artists, both sweet and corrupt, struggle to give their all to their work while nurturing and maintaining the hearts of those closest to them.
One of Henry’s early affairs takes place with a woman named Agnes. Agnes is a poet who falls deeply in love with Henry, but her loving husband Edward is waiting at home for her. The two lovers, sneaking behind the backs of their respective spouses, conceive a child. Looking at her hand she thinks:
One fine line was Edward, etched into the spiderweb that was their marriage, and another, the line she’d walked away from him. Rika’s father was a broader line, cut across her palm like a scar. Her daughter grew across a lateral, a spiny link between her heart and life. It was a burden, really, knowing that even her death lay upon her palm like a faint blue shadow.
Agnes’s life is inevitably tied to Henry’s by the birth of her child. Rika is a reminder of the life she’ll never have and the love that wasn’t good enough for him.
Ben, Henry’s son, the struggling painter, also finds himself tangled in the web that his father has woven over his lifetime. His girlfriend Mattie falls out of love with him, and because of this he heads back to the coast to spend his Thanksgiving with Kerry and Emma. His relationship with Kerry is strange to begin with—she’s his stepmother, but younger than him—and it continues to transform as the holiday season progresses. The two fall into a comfortable friendship that quickly morphs into something more.
These stories travel from the Carolina Coast to Chicago, New York, Pennsylvania, and more to examine the lives that are directly affected, or perhaps even created, by the deceptive choices made in times of heart wrenching need. Readers with the purest of hearts will find themselves torn between options of staying true and following the heart—but the heart doesn’t always lead in the right direction. Charlotte Holmes crafts these interwoven stories of deception and struggle with grace