Laura McBride’s first novel, We Are Called to Rise is populated with rich and complex characters, and a setting that reflects the contradictions of life—that there can be something wonderful underneath the guise of filth, and vice versa. Las Vegas is typically seen as just The Strip, a place where prostitution is legal and there are strippers galore. However, the truth McBride reveals is a much more complex counter to this sleazy image. She says:
Maybe it’s surprising, but most Las Vegas children don’t grow up quickly. They aren’t fast like their coastal counterparts. In Vegas, children pass through their novel environment unconsciously… They’ve been taught not to notice, and it’s only the transplanted ones—the children who arrive from Boston when they are nine—who think to tell their friends back home about the naked billboards, the “Live Nude” signs, the doggy-sex flyers.
McBride masterfully shows the complexity of the setting through the life of Avis, a woman stuck in her past whose marriage has been falling apart under her nose. The modern, suburban lifestyle Avis reached wasn’t expected of her. Based on her violent past and her mother (a young woman who jumped from abusive boyfriend to abusive boyfriend), it was assumed she’d end up perpetuating the idea of Vegas as a seedy, violent place. However, she claws her way up to the lifestyle she dreamed of as a child: a nice home in a nice neighborhood with a loving husband and a child. Under the sheen of this shiny new life, there are still struggles that must be dealt with: illnesses, deteriorating relationships, and the idea that maybe, just maybe, she hadn’t done things quite right raising her son.
This idea—struggling to reach an ideal and realizing it’s not all that it seems—is also seen in the story of Bashkim Ahmenti, the eight-year-old son of Albanian refugees. His parents, trying to achieve the American Dream (to be self-sufficient and industrious), own an ice cream truck, but they constantly argue. Bashkim’s baba, who was, for a time, a political prisoner in Albania, and his nene, who misses Albania terribly, are both prone to anger and defensiveness, yelling at each other over every little thing.
A physical manifestation of the theme seen in both Bashim’s and Avis’s stories is when Bashkim’s nene buys a young pear tree, just a sapling, despite his baba’s objections. They plant it together, and it grows wonderfully in the ground behind their apartment building. It seems perfect, but when the tree bears fruit they’re hard as rocks, and don’t taste good at all.
All of this wonderful complexity vanishes near the end of the book. The resolution makes some attempts at bitter sweetness, but the gritty reality set up in the beginning melts away and leaves only a simple ending that seems entirely too coincidental to be realistic. Such a neat ending leaves out all of the loose ends that build intrigue throughout the novel. At just over three hundred pages, it’s an average size novel, but perhaps if McBride were given more room, she could have reintroduced the negative, however slight, that underlies all positive things in her book, as in life.
Laura McBride is a writer and community college teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada. She once thought of herself as an adventurer, having traveled far from home on little more than a whim and a grin, but now laughs at the conventional trappings of her ordinary suburban life. We Are Called To Rise is her first novel.
About the author: Hope Kennedy is a sophomore at North Central College, where she’s studying English and Management. Likes include writing, cats, and sleeping in on rainy days. Dislikes include inaccurate movies based on good books, the sound people make when they chew ice, and that awkward smile you exchange with a stranger when you make eye contact.