Tara Road by Maeve Binchy
(Delacourt, $24.95, G) ISBN 0-385-33512-1
I know I've read a terrific book if the characters are still on my mind days after I've finished reading it, and that is certainly the case with Tara Road.

It was love at first sight for Ria when handsome Danny Lynch joins the real estate firm she works for, and she is amazed to discover he returns her affections. When Ria becomes pregnant, she and Danny wed and move into a fixer upper at No. 16 Tara Road. The home, especially the kitchen, soon becomes the center of Ria's universe, as well as for her friends, neighbors and family.

The years pass, and Ria is content until her world all comes crashing down with the discovery of Danny's affair with a woman only 8 years older than their teenage daughter. What's more, the girl, Bernadette, is pregnant. Danny abandons the home they worked so hard to restore and moves in with Bernadette.

Ria is blindsided by Danny's infidelity. Unable to accept his defection, she seizes the opportunity for a summer home exchange with an American woman, Marilyn Vine.

Marilyn needs to escape the disaster of her life in Connecticut. The chance to visit Ireland and spend the summer away from her problems seems the perfect solution. Marilyn, a very private person, soon finds herself unwillingly drawn into lives of Ria's friends and family.

While living in each other's homes, both Ria and Marilyn discover secrets, that if revealed would cause profound pain to the other. Although they have never met in person, they take on each other's causes and as a result their own healing begins.

The strength of this book is in its extraordinary characterization. Although the first third of the book progresses somewhat slowly, it enables you to become firmly enmeshed in these people's lives. The other inhabitants of Tara Road are richly drawn. Ria's meddlesome mom, her jealous sister Hilary, her best friend Rosemary and her sometimes difficult children, Annie and Brian.

Tara Road is often a heartbreaking read. Ria's pain is tangible, and although her responses to the situation sometimes made me cringe, she reacted like a real person and did not always make the best choices.

When I finished, I closed the cover with a sense of satisfaction and a desire to visit again soon with the residents of Tara Road.

--Karen Lynch

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