The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelly Rowley isn’t a novel about finding yourself when you’re lost. Instead, it’s a novel about learning to be okay with uncertainty and accepting that sometimes we all feel a little lost.
It follows Clio Marsh, Smith Anderson, and Tate Pennington, three Yale graduates who live in New York City. They’re in their early 30’s and find themselves rambling as they move on from their respective hardships.
This novel has many flaws, but the characters come to life as they take you with them along their journeys.
The Plot of The Ramblers
The Ramblers follows three characters:
Clio Marsh is an ornithologist learning to move past a traumatic childhood with a wildcard mother who suffered from a serious mental illness. After one of her weekly birding tours through The Ramble in Central Park, she meets an older man and hotel tycoon from Northern Ireland named Henry. He helps her learn to love and live her own life now that her mom is gone.
Smith Anderson is a professional organizer for upscale New Yorkers and her life is a bit of a mess. She’s the daughter of a wealthy and overbearing parents. She’s struggling to move on from the shock of her fiancé breaking off their engagement without warning. When we meet her, she’s the maid of honor at her younger sister’s wedding and wondering where her own life went so wrong.
Tate Pennington is a middle class midwestern boy who has recently come in to a fortune and now bears the title of self-made millionaire. When his wife asked for a divorce, he moved back to New York to study photography and start a new life. When he and Smith meet at a Yale game one weekend, they fall into a whirlwind romance and help each other heal.
This book follows these three characters over a single Thanksgiving weekend.
The Ramblers Book Review: First Impressions
While my initial instinct was to put down this book and not finish it, it truly came to life on page 81, when we move on from Clio’s opening section and into Smith’s. From here, the characters became real for me.
I would think about these characters during the day and be excited to return to the pages of this novel every morning so that I could continue along this journey with them. As someone who is currently searching for her own path in life, I related to these characters, especially Smith and Tate.
The characterization wasn’t perfect. The dialogue was engaging, but not always realistic. Also, every character had their thing they were obsessed with, transfixed on. This felt very disingenuous to me.
- Henry was so obsessed with E.B. White that he built a hotel dedicated to the author
- Clio’s mom, Eloise was so obsessed with Charles Darwin she’d read On the Origin of the Species to her daughter before bed
- Tate never left home without his camera and had stacks of photography books laying about and even built a darkroom into his apartment.
- Clio lived an independent life that she dedicated completely to her study of birds—that is until big, strong Henry came along and taught her to love again.
Still, the characters stuck with me, and for that I have to applaud Rowley’s characterization, despite my peeves.
The Ramblers Shortcomings
I mentioned at the start that this book wasn’t perfect. While I fell in love with the characters, I felt that the story was strangely lopsided. Tate and Smith were living parallel stories that intertwined due to their romantic relationship. They also had similar obstacles: recently heartbroken and living a life their overbearing parents didn’t understand. This, to me, was the main story.
Clio, on the other hand, felt very much outside this story. She opened and closed the book and was the cause of the title, The Ramblers, due to her weekly birding tours through the Ramble. However, she was living a completely different story.
She and Smith had been friends since they roomed together in college, but that’s where her connection ends. They barely even appeared in each other’s stories, while Smith and Tate were central to each other’s.
Clio isn’t reeling from a breakup, she’s struggling to come to terms with falling in love. She’s a scientist who has, until meeting Henry, been devoted to her work—and only her work. Now she’s met Henry and she’s spending less time at the office and more time in the arms of her man.
Though I understand that the lesson she needed to learn was emotional vulnerability, this part of her story left a weird taste in my mouth.
Smith and Tate allowed us to flow through their weekend together and see it from two different perspectives. They continued the story, while Clio broke up the flow of the narrative to show us something completely different. In fact, you could skip her sections altogether and not miss a thing. This was by far the novel’s greatest shortcoming.
The Ramblers Book Review: Final Verdict
Overall, this was an enjoyable read though I think the narrative would have fared better if it was split into two separate books—one for Clio and another for Smith and Tate.
However, when this book hit, it hit really well, so I would still recommend it, especially if you’re feeling a bit directionless and need to hear that, sometimes, being lost is okay.
The Ramblers Book Review Rating: 3/5