After the funeral of her “Dad,” adopted Ann is freshly motivated to seek out the history of her biological parents, a task she undertakes by traveling to Newland, Wisconsin, where her Austrian biological mother originally emigrated after World War II. The years of questioning her Dad and Mom about the life of her biological mother and father have always yielded vague answers. When Ann meets a World War II veteran in Newland named Emmett and a small community of friendly neighbors including handsome John, the vagueness gives way to a surprising specificity and life-changing secrets both welcome and bittersweet.
Although the pacing of the work could be described as stately bordering on comatose, Bragstad shows a talent for gradually and believably teasing out the hearts of her characters. Unlike a narrative that is punctuated by action set-pieces or overtly punchy dialogue, IN THE COMFORT OF SHADOWS relies on a gradual build that is as much about the dynamics of the community as Ann’s personal motivations.
The layering of the past, which includes transcripts of diary entries and old photographs, feels organic. This makes the slow reveal of long-buried secrets ultimately rewarding emotionally, though the author could invest in some editing without losing this resonance. The prose occasionally has a typo or jumps tense, as in “John moved the seat back and got behind the wheel, then hugged her as best as he could over the console. Ann’s troubled thoughts tumbles [sic] out…” Otherwise, it is competent and supports a fully believable and rounded out cast of supporting characters.
With a story spanning back to World War II that is set both in Europe and in the American Midwest, the book is a slow-building, multi-generational family saga that doesn’t shy away from late-blooming romance.
IN THE COMFORT OF SHADOWS is an emotionally invested story about families, lies, and the difficulties we face in letting go of love.
Reviewed by Julia Lai for IndieReader.