‘We Are Called To Rise’ by Laura McBride

We Are All Called To Rise

‘We never know how high we are

Till we are called to rise;

And then, if we are true to plan,

Our statures touch the skies -‘

Emily Dickinson

Laura McBride’s heartwarming debut novel, We Are Called To Rise, is a tale ‘loosely’ based on true events, set in the residential, desert-like landscape of Las Vegas. A conflicting and contradictory place which thrives ‘only by convincing outsiders that it is something it is not’, We Are Called To Rise tells the tale of four characters whose lives are about to become entwined in the most devastatingly irrevocable way possible.

‘The way I see it, nothing in life is a rehearsal. It’s not preparation for anything else. There’s no getting ready for it. There’s no waiting for the real part to begin. Not ever. Not even for the smallest child. This is it. And if you wait too long to figure that out, to figure out that we are the ones making the world, we are the ones to whom all the problems – and all the possibilities for grace – now fall, then you lose everything. Your only shot at this world’

Roberta in We Are Called To Rise, Laura McBride

The first character, Avis, is a middle-aged woman who, starting from tragic beginnings, has tried to engineer a successful outcome for herself. She had a perfectly secure husband, a brave and courageous soldier for a son, a home full of memories and a group of girlfriends she never had as a teenager. However, right from the beginning the reader is aware that there are major cracks threatening to overturn everything she has worked for. The novel opens on an excruciatingly embarrassing evening where Avis is trying to spark some excitement into her and Jim’s sex life. Standing naked, ‘having just wagged [her] fifty-three-year-old ass’, Jim drops the unexpected news that he is in love with a coworker. As her marriage comes to an abrupt end, Avis has other, more pressing, issues to deal with. Her only son, Nate, a soldier having just served his third and final tour of Iraq, has returned home considerably altered from the loving, carefree boy he used to be. There are hints of his uncontrolled anger present in the bruises that appear on his wife’s body as he is inaugurated into the police force. There is also the problem of Emily, a repressed memory that Avis has yet to deal with.

‘And I folded. I slipped to the ground with the bathrobe around me, and the tears began. I could not stop them. Awkwardly, Jim put his hand on my back, but I shrugged him away. He stood up and went out. Then I cried harder. Because I wanted Jim to hold me. Because how could I want Jim to hold me?’

Avis in We Are Called To Rise, Laura McBride

Next up is Roberta, a voluntary CASA – Court Appointed Special Advocate for children – who wants to make a difference in this life. She recounts her experiences and the kids she has worked with through the years and it is clear that she is extremely passionate about what she does.

‘People drifted in from every part of the country, all with their own stories, many without anything to back them up: not money, not education, not family, not wit. And their children tumbled along, left to survive or not as they could. I remember the kids who came to school hungry, the kids who came bruised, the girls whose eyes flickered with something I was too sheltered to understand. I noticed then, I remember now. It is all a part of the life I live still.’

Roberta in We Are Called To Rise, Laura McBride

The third narrator is Bashkim, an eight-year-old Albanian immigrant. Living with his nene, baba and younger sister, Tirana, Bashkim is a tentative and sensitive young boy. He picks up on the fights his parents have and understands that his father is the way he is – a suspiciously angry man – because he was once a political prisoner in Albania. Despite finding refuge in America, his father has never been able to shake off the trauma he experienced at the hands of the law.

The last, final, narrator is Luis, a young Mexican-American soldier who is in hospital with no recollection of the injury he has sustained. Plagued by haunting memories of Iraq, he endures psychoanalytic therapy with Dr Ghosh and realises the true impact of his actions. However, letters from a young boy – Bashkim – as part of a school project, allow him to stay afloat in the midst of his own self-loathing.

As the synopsis states on Laura McBride’s website: ‘By the time we realise how these voices will connect, the impossible and perhaps the unbearable has already happened’. I fully agree with this. As I was reading the novel I was constantly wondering how all of these distinct voices would connect and by the time it all clicked it was too late. I won’t give away the climactic event that brings the four characters together – though I will say that it comes down to a disastrous and heartbreaking chance encounter – but what ensues out of all the darkness is a small ray of hope. Hope in small acts of human kindness and hope in the beauty and fragility of human life to rise above the darkness that can threaten to engulf us.

‘What is most beautiful is least acknowledged. What is worth dying for is barely noticed’.

Avis in We Are Called To Rise, Laura McBride

Despite being a touch cliché at times, McBride manages to portray a real and gritty account of life outside of the Las Vegas strip. Heralded as a guilty secret by Americans and tourists alike, Vegas is much more than the big bright lights, the billboards of naked women and casinos open 24-hours a day. It is a place where people set down their roots and start a family, a place where children grow up and, as Roberta notes, either go away to college, land on the strip or become soldiers: ‘In Las Vegas, armed forces recruiting centers dot the landscape like Starbucks shops, across from every high school, near every major intersection’. Never has the problem of returning soldiers been more pressing and there is still not enough support to facilitate life back into civilisation, away from war zones. Although the novel ends positively – you could almost say a ‘happy’ ending – I think there are still many issues McBride leaves us to ponder.

Thanks to Simon and Sschuster UK via Netgalley for the Review copy.

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11 Replies to “‘We Are Called To Rise’ by Laura McBride”

    1. Thanks, I, too, like stories with multiple narrators (if they are done well). I seem to have read a lot of them lately.

  1. I have never heard of this, but I love the sound of it! And, I love multiple narrators that somehow connect along the way. On the list it goes!

    1. So do I. I have just read another book – Strange Girls and Ordinary Women – with multiple narrators that connect which was also really good. My review will be up soon!

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