Richard Botelho,
Leah's Way
(Windstream, 2004)

In Leah's Way, the universal question of the purpose of life and how it relates to the individual is explored. Themes such as domestic violence, neglect, adultery and self-gratification are ubiquitous throughout the novel and they are juxtaposed with a religious theme.

At first I was very impressed that the protagonist, Leah, was the creation of a man's imagination and was curious to see the development of the character through a man's perspective. I felt a strong empathy for Leah's character at the beginning of the story and was moved by her traumatic family experiences with her mother and wayward sister. Unfortunately, as the novel progressed, that empathy waned and even deteriorated due to Leah's hedonistic and self-indulgent lifestyle.

Leah was a user who used God as a crutch for her sins and misgivings. Rather than embracing God for the correct reasons, Leah would quote the Bible or profess her love for the Lord after marrying a man just to escape her life in Nashville, committing adultery with a colleague of her husband or having an estranged relationship with her son. As I read the novel, I kept thinking if Leah's first love was God, her best way to illustrate this would have been to devote herself to the Lord alone, perhaps become a nun rather than take this sinful route in life. Her self-indulgence made me despise her character rather than feel for her. Leah was promiscuous, selfish and downright boring most times.

Leah's Way spans three decades, from the l950s to the l980s, and in this time we see Leah have her first experience of love turn into disappointment. We have all been there and gotten over it. Leah, on the other hand, is a prisoner of unrequited love for the rest of her life and never lets the memory of her first love, Blake, be extricated from her life or fade away. She marries an up and coming baseball player called Vic, who is an honest man and provides for Leah emotionally and materially after an injury puts an end to his baseball career. But Vic was only useful for Leah as a way to escape from her existence in Nashville. Once she realized that she would never have the status as a "famous baseball player's wife," Leah lost interest rapidly. Leah never responds to Vic's goodness even though Vic is totally unconditional in his love for her. Leah devotes her life to God and her son David in order to survive this barren marriage and give herself purpose. This is a recurring theme throughout the novel: God is always the scapegoat for Leah's inadequacy and Leah always continues her "quest for purpose" in a most bizarre fashion, basically as a compulsive sinner. The consequences of her traumatic childhood are forever embedded in her soul.

Author Richard Botelho, in his first novel, explores human flaws and how temptation and sin can consume even the most righteous person. Leah's progression from beautiful Southern belle to homeless, destitute and down and out keeps the reader engrossed -- however, I would have been a happier reader if I had a liking rather than a loathing of the main character.

by Risa Duff
25 March 2006

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