Reader Bee Book Review:  Seven Steeples, by Sara Baume

Reviewed by Karina Wetherbee.

Editor’s note: Karina Wetherbee will be writing monthly book reviews for the Crestone Eagle. 

The modern world is a place of constant motion, plagued by an unrealistic work/life balance, mounting unread emails, and a 24/7 news cycle — with some headlines that impact humanity’s very existence and many more that are as substantive as mist, barely relevant for minutes at most. A yearning to escape, to flee life’s responsibilities and the daily hustle and bustle can be tempting. It’s this unnamed craving that Sara Baume explores in her recent book, Seven Steeples.

As with her widely acclaimed first novel, Spill Simmer Falter Wither, the remote coast of Baume’s native Ireland is the backdrop, and the rustic landscape serves as a vivid third character to the oddly captivating protagonists, Bell and Sigh. 

Both city dwellers, the new couple, with their respective dogs in tow, decides to embark on a profound pilgrimage of simplification, determined to reject societal expectations and to try “living in a place where other people didn’t.”

It quickly becomes clear that Baume intends to slow down alongside her characters, and she does this by dedicating entire paragraphs to things like the life cycle of a puddle following a stretch of rain, or a blue bath mat hanging on the clothesline for so long it’s forgotten and becomes part of the scenery, fading to the same blue as the distant sea and sky. The landscape, the weather, and especially the looming undulation of an unclimbed mountain always intrudes, even indoors, glimpsed through the increasingly neglected windows, which slowly grow hazy with the accumulation of cobwebs and soot, the “personalized squalor” of a place truly inhabited.

The novel is made up of little moments, vignettes of time moving forward, with a pair of loners in a lonely landscape at the center. The text often flows like an e.e. cummings poem, tumbling down the page with no set destination and no dialogue to carry it forth. But it captivates, forcing the reader to pause, to step down slowly, to eke out the significance of those gamboling lines. 

With a meditative prose that is starkly beautiful and deeply human, Baume imbues the peaceful moments with hygge, that warm and fuzzy feeling of contentment. With each chapter marking a year, Baume allows the slow march of their shared lives to carry Bell and Sigh from the new to the familiar to the beloved. As the years progress, the details of the changing seasons deepen, sometimes exploding off the page by the deft hand of a skilled writer: “October mornings peeled the night cloud back to its subcutaneous lilac tissue.”

Seven Steeples is a novel about the overlooked, about being present and being open to all moments of life. It is a profound study of sharing space and sharing a life with someone, and  about embracing the simple things. If one were asked, “What happens?” in the novel, one could reply, “Good question. So little, and so much. Life happens.”

Karina Wetherbee, a Keystone, Colorado native, and part of the long-time Crestone Dercum family, has been a writer since 2004, having published a memoir and a novel. 

In addition, she has been a professional photographer and watercolor artist for many years. She wrote regular book review columns for The Summit Daily and Vail Daily newspapers, and she is now looking forward to contributing book reviews to the Crestone Eagle each month.

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