Three people living their own personal dramas, while basking in the found glory of successful careers and considerable wealth is the main story behind Aidan Donnelley Rowley’s The Ramblers. The title of the book is taken from the name of a New York City hiking group. A clever use of it since one of the main characters, Clio Marsh, is an ornithologist and avid bird watcher.
The novel shadows the life of Clio, her best friend Smith Anderson (a wasp-y name if ever there was one), and Tate Pennington, and old Yale acquaintance of both Clio and Smith, who returns to New York after a nasty break up with his wife and try to rekindle his love for photography.
Aidan Donnelley Rowley has an indisputable talent for describing the beauty of New York City, and the vibrant atmosphere that surrounds it. It is then most unfortunate, that her characters all fall rather flat. At times it feels like the story-lines of Clio, Smith and Tate are extracted from an episode of Gossip Girl, fast forward fifteen years. While Clio doesn’t possess Smith’s blue blood background, she meets her Prince Charming while he is weeping on a bench in Central Park, lamenting the death of his mother to cancer.
Of course, it’s love at first sight with the nice addition that he happens to be insanely rich. Upon delving into Clio’s history, we cannot help but wonder if the attraction to her boyfriend, who is some twenty years older than her, is centered more in her need for a father figure than borne out of actual love. Her childhood was difficult, growing up in at home with a mother who suffered a severe mental illness and a father who didn’t know how to give his daughter the attention and love she so desperately needed.
Smith and Tate have their own difficult histories. Smith is nursing a broken heart after her fiancée unexpectedly broke off their engagement and left her depressed and unhinged. Although she boasts degrees from Yale and Columbia, she decides to become a professional organizer, to “help her clients clear their homes of burdensome clutter”.
It is evident however, that Smith’s own life is in dire need of some organization and personal growth, as she seems unable to extract herself from the multi-million dollar apartment in which she resides in Manhattan, courtesy of her parent’s money. It’s worth mentioning that Clio also lives there rent free. However, as the novel progresses she decides to take the leap from Smith’s apartment to her boyfriend’s luxurious high-rise hotel, where he has built an apartment for the both of them where she will live also presumably, rent free.
In the meantime, Tate deals with a messy divorce, a soon-to-be ex-wife who cheated on him with his business partner, and wants to keep half his assets, a la Ivanna Trump. Of course, Tate has always carried the proverbial torch for Smith since their Yale days, and it’s not too difficult to figure out that they will fall for each other. Happy ending; roll credits.
This novel had potential, lots of it. It’s a shame that Donnelley Rowley’s excellent talent for storytelling is wasted on these characters who don’t seem to inspire empathy, sadness or likeability. Even when we learn about Clio’s terrible childhood and her residual panic attacks that move in for the kill when she is under stress, we can’t quite relate to her. Her fairy-tale story with Henry and how she is the first and only woman he has ever fallen in love with after a long string of brief affairs, is a little too on the Lifetime side of mini-dramas.
Aidan Donnelley Rowley could have done something poignant and very meaningful with The Ramblers. Instead, it makes us sadly regret that we ever delved into the life ramblings of her characters in the first place.