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There’s more to The Furthest City Light than might first meet the eye. Even the most casual read soon begins to impart the weight the main character feels after the initial life-altering event unfolds. Rachel Stein is a public defender. She’s focused and excels at what she does. The thrill of the courtroom gives her a drug-like high as she “rights the wrongs” of society. Or so Rachel believes as she begins a trial to defend a battered woman who’s killed her abusive husband.
In her first full length novel, Jeanne Winer sends Rachel into the fray of courtroom drama with a self-defense plea sure to get the accused woman exonerated—but things don’t always go as planned, and Rachel’s job proves much more difficult as she rides a rollercoaster trying to gain acquittal for the accused woman. The planning and presentation of the case in court begins the story of the struggle for Rachel Stein’s lost and battered soul.
The story title is taken from a Robert Frost poem entitled “Acquainted with the Night,” which expresses the feelings of a lone character walking in the rain, feeling isolated, enveloped in darkness. These are feelings that permeate Rachel’s life in The Furthest City Light as she traverses the angst-filled skirmishes of her journey, attempting to find new meaning and the healing she so desperately seeks.
In a tale exposing a vast range of associations and involvements, from disclosing the imperfections of the legal system in America to reminding us of the involvement of the U.S. government in the politics and civil war in Nicaragua in the 1980s, everything Rachel experiences serves to move her toward a new self-realization. The journey is a long and arduous one, given to fits and starts, and circuitous paths. Along the way, she must negotiate land mines both internal and external. Included in the list of obstacles she encounters are the struggle to deal with a partner losing faith in their relationship and dealing with the devastation of poverty and war experienced with new-found friends in small Nicaraguan towns.
As the tale unfolds, life becomes such a struggle for Rachel that she finds herself shattered mentally and spiritually—and even her physical health and well-being are severely compromised as a result of her experiences. The story reveals a fight to find the meaning in one woman’s life at its most basic level yet in very complex ways. In other words, Winer has given us a story about a woman who becomes lost to herself, and follows it with the exposition of the difficult journey as the main character attempts to find herself again. Contentment and acceptance seem frustratingly elusive to Rachel, but she battles on, like a Sandinista fighting the Contras.
In spite of all the soul-searching and devastation Rachel encounters, there are some moments of well placed sarcasm and lightheartedness to make the reader smile. The jungle, it seems, is filled with characters of varying personalities. As a group of volunteers tries to help the people of Nicaragua where they can, behaviors emerge that can irritate, concern or endear, giving us both witty and poignant moments in the story. Rachel finds that enduring the hardships in the jungle is preferable to battles in the courtroom, but if she waits too long to return home, she may lose everything, including her partner. During her passage, she comes to realize her fight for freedom on both these fronts finds her deeply changed—and how that all figures into the person she is becoming remains to be seen.
Is Rachel running toward finding herself or is she running away from her problems? Life-changing, core altering things happen as Rachel flounders through life looking for meaning and purpose. Don’t miss this deeply thought provoking story of a journey of life-and-death encounters on a variety of levels with grave decisions to be made along the way. Winer has, indeed, given us plenty to think about in The Furthest City Light. You’ll ache toward the conclusion.
The Furthest City Light
By Jeanne Winer
Paperback, 9781594933257, 298 pp.