Arms Wide Open by Tom Winter

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Arms Wide Open by Tom Winter

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: This novel about a family grappling with life provokes deep thought one moment and loud laughing the next. Well observed, darkly comic and written by a man not only in touch with the sort of problems that can wreck a life, but someone who also must know a teenager or two.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: April 2014
Publisher: Corsair
ISBN: 978-1472101686

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Meredith loves her husband Alistair (the father of her teenage twins Jemima and Luke). This is a bit of a problem though as Alistair now has Charlotte, a new and younger model. With his new coupling in mind, Alistair decides to take the twins on holiday so they and Charlotte can bond. Surprisingly Meredith agrees wholeheartedly; she's sure that a week with the twins would break any fledgling relationship up. Meanwhile Meredith's own twin brother, Jack, is 'taking a break from work' which is fine but you'd think he could at least take a turn visiting his dementia-bound mother… or at least Meredith would think that and regularly does. Jack isn't as responsible as she is, in fact he isn't as a lot of things as she is but Meredith knows it will all turn out ok in the end, and, after the incident with the dead bird in the bleach, she may just be right.

Author Tom Winter is a Brit living in Berlin with a potted plant and a variety of noisy neighbours. He's also surrounded by words that he harnesses to great effect, making us guffaw in a coffee-spraying way and then spinning us round to face a profound life truth or sadness. Tom's done it once with his acclaimed debut Lost and Found and now he's gone and done it again.

As in Lost and Found there's a longing beneath the surface as Meredith is still pining for her estranged husband. Life and events seem to have obliterated her sense of fun and make her a bit of a neurotic cold fish. Whereas Jack is the ying to her yang; a man-child with more enthusiasm than sense. Between them they embody the battle between celebration and enjoyment versus the sort of sensible that ages prematurely. Just wait though: eventually our perceptions change as we understand Meredith and marvel at Jack.

Good words should also be said for Meredith's Luke and Jemima. Tom paints a picture that's wonderfully spot-on, employing his deliciously dark humour for our benefit. Speaking as a mother of two sons who have a step-mother and being a step-mother to two girls myself, I recognise so much of this. In fact rather than quake at the memories, it's a great tribute to Tom's writing that I chortled so heartily.

Luke has an understandable logic about his actions but that doesn’t mean chaos doesn't follow him. As an example I would suggest that you're not eating or drinking as you read the passage set in the car on the way to France – you will surely choke.

Jemima also has her moments of unpredictability and a fantastic turn of phrase that reminds me of one of my four… won't say which one! Jem's verbal duel with Charlotte is undeservedly cutting but oh so funny and just the sort of weapon that an intelligent teen wields. However, neither of the children is one-dimensional as beneath the façade their senses of vulnerability and fear seep out when they aren't looking.

There are so many memorable vignettes apart from the bird and the bleach. There's the grave rubbing scene, the blind dog, the old dear who believes that every jumbo jet is a WWII doodlebug and makes Jack do something about it and of course, there's poor Brian. Moving on…

We may join these people on a long bumpy road but we leave with a feeling of warmth and in the knowledge that, however things turn out, they're learning to manage and are blessed to have each other, warts, inappropriate love searches and all. I, on the other hand, would feel just as blessed if there could be a sequel. Fingers are firmly crossed just in case!

A big thank you to Corsair for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: For those who have yet to catch up with it, we recommend Lost and Found of course. If you've read it already, there seems to be a spate of comedic/thought-provoking, excellently-written families at the moment. For instance we just as heartily recommend The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg.

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Buy Arms Wide Open by Tom Winter at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Arms Wide Open by Tom Winter at


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