Book Review: Sorrow by Tiffanie DeBartolo

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From Tiffanie DeBartolo, author of God Shaped Hole, How to Kill a Rock Star, and Grace: The Jeff Buckley Story, comes Sorrow, a poignant story about friendship and love, art and music, and how these pursuits can save us from ourselves.

Joe Harper has backpedaled throughout his life. A once-promising guitar prodigy, he’s been living without direction since abandoning his musical dreams. Now into his thirties, having retreated from every opportunity he’s had to level up, he has lost his family, his best friend, and his own self-respect.

But Joe finds an unlikely path to redemption when he starts working as a carpenter for the bohemian conceptual artist October Danko. The job returns him to his hometown, loaded with bittersweet reminders of his former life, in the shadows of his beloved redwood trees. As Joe’s relationship with October develops, he yearns to take a daring step toward a bold future, but struggles to escape the craven decisions of his past.

Sorrow is a stunning, moving novel that explores masculinity and suspended adolescence, all the while begging the questions: Can courage be learned? And is it ever too late to follow your heart?

my review

Contemporary fiction is not usually my genre of choice, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading Sorrow. It’s a heartfelt, introspective, yet in many ways self-aware novel that incorporates art, music, and the majesty of the Pacific Northwest into one poignant exploration of missed opportunity and second chances.

I especially enjoyed the writing style – it was candid, clear, and just humorous enough to keep it from feeling too stuffy or pretentious. I loved the setting and the rich, vivid descriptions that made you feel like you were there. As someone who has never visited Northern California or seen a redwood forest, I was impressed by how quickly and effortlessly I was transported there, and by the end I felt as familiar with Mill Valley as if I’d seen it myself.

I will admit that our protagonist, Joe, could be a little hard to love. And though I suspect that that was more or less the intention, at times I felt like I was supposed to empathize with him more than I did. Even though he had suffered tragedy in his life, the incessant self-pity and self-sabotage that became his trademark characteristics were, at times, fatiguing. However, I will admit that by the end I was cheering for him, especially once he got his very well-deserved kick in the pants. (A highly satisfying scene that I wouldn’t dare spoil.)

The relationships between the characters were also rich and nuanced, though to be completely honest, there were times where I felt that October Danko, the artist with whom Joe falls in love, fell into the trope of the enigmatic artist whom no one can truly understand. I think I either missed or didn’t get enough of her backstory, which I felt would have made her more accessible.

Furthermore, the relationship between her and Joe tackles some questionable morality regarding fidelity, but I thought it was handled with grace, or at least, with tact. And though I couldn’t always condone them as a couple throughout the story, by the end, I was inclined to root for them.

And without spoiling anything, I will say this: the ending was my favorite part, and I left deeply satisfied. In fact, I even caught some feels. And that does not happen often, especially with contemporary fiction.

Ultimately, this novel had a unique way of seamlessly integrating art, music, life, and nature into a narrative that made them all accessible without over-simplifying their importance. And that, I know, is not an easy thing to do. As a writer I was impressed and as a reader I was appreciative.

For those who love slice-of-life, character-driven, contemporary romance that relies heavily on setting and thematic imagery, I highly recommend Sorrow by Tiffanie DeBartolo. At the very least, it will make you want to go visit a redwood forest more than you ever thought you could.

You can buy the book on Amazon here!

about the author

Tiffanie DeBartolo grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, where she insists there was nothing to do but read books and listen to music. It’s no surprise that after graduating high school a year early to study philosophy at UC Berkeley, she became a writer and founded a record label. Tiffanie’s most recent novel is “Sorrow.” Her previous works include “God Shaped Hole” (2002), “How To Kill a Rock Star” (2005), the graphic novel “Grace: Based on the Jeff Buckley Story” (2019), and the film “Dream for an Insomniac” (1996), which she wrote and directed.

Tiffanie is the founder and Chief Executive Super Goddess of Bright Antenna Records, whose roster includes The Wombats, Sports Team, Wilderado, Prep, and more. She also co-founded the ShineMaker Foundation, a charity organization dedicated to making the world a better place. And she is a faculty member of the Jackson Hole Writers Conference, where she teaches writing every June. She is also a runner, hiker, yogi, traveler, cook, poet, artist and feminist. Tiffanie lives in Mill Valley, California, with her husband, Scott Schumaker, and her two Irish Wolfhounds, Dipsea and Kazoo.

Images (c) Tiffanie DeBartolo and Woodhall Press (or whomever owns these images, rest assured it’s not me)

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