by Tiffanie DeBartolo
No one — and I mean NO ONE — writes a messy love story and human reconciliation quite like Tiffanie De Bartolo. This author has had my heart since the 90’s, when Dream for an Insomniac came out. For every decade of my life, Tiffanie DeBartolo has given me a book to help me get through the euphoric highs and soul-crushing lows of love, friendship, figuring out what you want, and understanding how to forgive those who hurt you, and how to forgive yourself for those you’ve hurt. In her body of work, love is an unavoidable, glorious mess that well-meaning people make, and it’s also the exact thing that becomes their saving grace.
In every piece of her work, people fumble towards joy, work their way through pains of their own making, and sometimes discover how to reconcile the two. There are no true villains; only people whose timing is flawed. That’s a rarity in novels with a love story, and I’ll never tire of the way that DeBartolo takes careful consideration in making love triangles about the humanity of everyone involved, rather than the conflict of changing hearts.
Sorrow is maybe the most mature work from DeBartolo yet, which is perfect for readers who are past the messy drama of their 20s, and want a different kind of love story, populated by characters who have already figured out some things — but not everything. I’ve always been fascinated by how well DeBartolo writes male characters, with an emotional complexity and depth that is completely unique. Joe Harper feels like a person that most readers will immediately recognize, and for most of the novel, I felt almost as though I was reading a series of letters from a friend.
For those who are familiar with the Bay Area (specifically, the North Bay), there are Easter Eggs galore, from Joe eating the best Puerto Rican food in NorCal at Sol Foods to Tiffanie’s own dog making a cameo appearance (hi Dipsea!) — all these little hidden gems contribute to the authenticity of the setting of the novel as a character in its own right, and the natural way that the story unfolds.
October has a lot in common with some of DeBartolo’s pantheon of layered, interesting female characters. She’s got the whimsy of Frankie, the soul of Trixie, and the tenacity of Eliza. If you love art, music, and the North Bay Redwoods, you’ll love Sorrow.
As is my my way with Tiffanie DeBartolo’s work, as I worked my way through the last pages, I found myself reading through the tears and hoping that there won’t be such a long wait for the next book.
Completely unrelated to this review: I have written all of one writer fangirl letter in my entire life, and it was to Tiffanie DeBartolo. She wrote back to me, and was incredibly generous and encouraging. This has nothing to do with this novel — but it also has everything to do with this novel. Great writers aren’t always great people, and I feel that it bears mentioning when the two intersect.