The Nine Assignments
by Glenda Winders

"Gina felt her eyes widen in surprise and then quickly narrowed them to hide the judgment she felt, but it was too late."

Few subjects have fascinated readers more over the years than novels about families. From Booth Tarkington’s changing times and changing mores in The Magnificent Ambersons to Pat Conroy’s psychological study of hidden secrets and tortured emotions in The Prince Of Tides, the family unit has always proven potent fuel to fire people’s imaginations. Perhaps it’s because the majority of individuals live their entire lives either dealing with or seeking to avoid family issues. Perhaps it’s because unlike friends whom you choose to have a relationship with, family members come pre-packaged and attached. Time, distance, and indifference can detach family members from one another, but can the family unit be put back together again? That’s a key question at the heart of Glenda Winders' novel.

Anita is a successful artist and designer whose profession has her constantly globe-trotting from one part of the world to another. Her two grown children, Larry and Gina, have made separate lives for themselves at opposite ends of the country. Larry is a music director for a movie studio in Los Angeles. He has a gorgeous house in Malibu, an appropriately stylish wife, and a young son. Gina is a housewife and mother helping her husband make ends meet by running a small feed and hardware store in Indiana. Anita knows the two have basically become estranged, though she doesn’t really know why. She’s determined to have them re-establish real family ties. So she lets them know that she’ll start providing them with some of their financial inheritance if they’ll agree to complete nine specific assignments—assignments cleverly designed by Anita to bring the siblings together not just physically, but emotionally as well.

The majority of Winders' tale revolves around Larry and Gina’s attempts to complete the assignments. As they try to bridge the gulf between them, the reader learns why such a wide chasm exists. In so doing, the author lays out the tangled relationship between brother and sister, it’s long history of how each continually misunderstands and underestimates the other, and the event as one sees it, or the betrayal as the other sees it, that damaged their relationship and caused them to drift apart over the years. Will they be able to complete the assignments? Will doing so make any real difference in how each feels about the other? Will a mother’s effort to bring her children closer together help them cope with more than one secret she desperately needs to divulge to them? The answers lie between the pages.

Winders is a skillful writer particularly proficient at character development and detail. Her prose and dialogue vividly bring to life the behaviors and traits of both central and supporting characters. She makes it easy to relate to the emotional tightrope that many of the family members are walking. None of her individuals come across as stock players. Their personas all teem with real flesh and blood. While she’s extremely adept at providing meticulously descriptive detail of locations, objects, and atmosphere, an overabundance of itemization occasionally slows pace and burdens comprehension. Still, her narrative is strong, her style is confidant, and her exploration of mistrust, regret, enlightenment, and potential unification will likely appeal to all who enjoy family sagas.

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