Linda, an anxious and restless American, has moved to São Paulo, with her historian husband, finding herself unmoored and adrift. Linda's unwavering and skilled maid, Marta, is exasperated by Linda's instability yet becomes profoundly close to her over the course of months.
Burnham’s artful tapestry of a novel...concerns Linda’s relationships with other women ... The nested stories of Marta and Celia—delivered as notes to epic phone conversations, and intimate monologues in the kitchen—capture the oral systems of information-sharing and storytelling passed among women throughout history ... descriptions of São Paulo’s neighborhoods, the rural town of Atibaia and the beaches of Trindade bring the reader into sensory contact with the setting. As well, her descriptions of the domestic sphere show us the subtle power dynamics at play there. Clear and intricate prose delivers such fresh phrases ... This is a remarkable story of secrecy, discovery and self-expression, delivered by a skillful observer.
Under a less deft hand, this could be hokey. But one of the greatest draws of It Is Wood, It Is Stone is Burnham’s exquisite prose, making Linda’s shrewd observations lush and alive ... While the framework of It Is Wood, It Is Stone might read like a long letter to a man with a rather unimpressive personality, it’s actually a self-examination of Linda as she figures out who she is, and what she wants ... But while Linda’s soul-searching is made compelling through Burnham’s lyricism, it’s sometimes hampered by brief moments that lack self-awareness. Linda may be interesting, but she’s not always likable. That’s normally fine — main characters don’t have to be a reader’s best friend. If anything, flaws are interesting...The problem with Linda’s shortcomings is that they aren’t always recognized as such ... But by the end of the novel, it’s hard to tell if these are the necessary truths Linda honestly believes, or if they’re just fleeting musings to her. Perhaps that doesn’t matter so much as our own critical reading of her actions. After all, characters aren’t always made to be followed and loved unconditionally. If anything, that’s the message at the crux of Linda’s story, the ethos at the heart of the novel.