Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

Leah's Way

Richard Botelho

Windstream Publishing Company

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-9643926-9-0

Publication Date: April 15, 2004

256 Pages; Price: $12.95

Date Reviewed: 02-20-04

Reviewed by: Katie Dean © 2004



General Fiction

'Leah's Way' purports to deal with some weighty subjects - what is the purpose of life and how should one find a meaningful path through life? Despite the potential interest of the topic, and a Silver Award for Fiction in October 2003, this novel remains eminently forgettable. It offers nothing new by way of insight and any literary aspirations it may entertain are completely undermined by its prose style.

The story is of a woman's life and the choices she makes in a desperate effort to give meaning to her life. The main character, Leah, is perfectly ordinary and is faced with problems and choices that will be familiar to any reader. Commencing in the 1950s, the story spans around five decades, quite a challenge for any author. Unfortunately, Botelho has not succeeded in conveying a sense of time - the 1950s feel much the same as the 1990s. This becomes a critical problem since many of Leah's early life choices only make sense if viewed within a particular time period. Leah decides to marry young in order to escape her family and the confines of the Deep South. This decision has a momentous effect on her life, but it only makes sense if one remembers that this was the 1950s, a time when women had less freedom than today and a time when marriage was a viable, perhaps the only viable way to leave home.

Leah herself is sufficiently engaging to provide a reason for finishing the novel. However, Botelho's style has made it difficult to wholeheartedly sympathise with her; she does not appear as a three dimensional person at all times. The story is told in the third person, which automatically places some distance between reader and character. It also, rather unfortunately, allows the narrator to patronize Leah. The other characters with whom Leah interacts all tend to be caricatures, types of people placed within the novel to stimulate Leah into making particular choices. As such, any potential naturalism is lost and by the end when Botelho reveals his authorial purpose, the plot appears simply contrived. None of this is in any way helped by the prose style. The language varies from colloquial to employing basic grammatical errors. Had the story been told first person, such a style could have been overlooked and might even have added to the novel. As it is, it constantly jars against the weightiness of the subject matter.

The central theme of this novel, the question of the meaning of life itself, is one that has drawn authors in all genres for centuries. It is a question to which every reader seeks an answer and offers huge scope for interesting ideas and discussion. Botelho's answer to the question reflects his own deeply held religious views and is an answer that millions of people have found before him. A new novel promoting the Word of God in today's increasingly secular society will create notice. However, the plot of 'Leah's Way' is not sufficiently deep or thought provoking to engender the hope that it will lead more people to consider the role of God in our lives today. This novel is fraught with disappointments, but perhaps the greatest of these is that a discussion of such weighty matters can leave the reader with no forcible impressions and nothing to ponder after the book has been completed.