All The Best People by Sanja Yoerg

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“Recently, Carole overheard the nurses say Solange Gifford was haunted, and although Carole did not, strictly speaking, believe in ghosts, it was as fitting a diagnosis as any.”

Something is pulling the threads of Carole’s sanity, and the origins of her unraveling may be in the blood. When Carole was a child growing up in the 1970’s, her mother was committed to the ‘madhouse’ but what a child perceives and what is truth is more often than not at odds with reality. She has always had to keep things together, raising her little sister- the baby her disturbed mother always mentions, one who never grew up in her damaged mind, a sister who refuses to visit the mother she never knew. But despite Carole’s calm surface and her orderly life of structure she cannot stop the shift that is taking place and her daughter Alison is horrified. Desperately in need of mothering, Alison is adrift without guidance. Her body is changing, school is getting difficult, friendships are strained and her mother is losing it but no one seems to be doing anything about it!  Unbeknownst to her husband and children, Carole is hearing voices that she knows aren’t there. She is terrified of being devoured by the mental illness that swallowed her mother whole, with good reason. When Solange was committed, times were different and treatments far more severe. It’s hard not to delve deeper into Solange’s past in my review, the ease with which women were committed, the treatments that did more harm than good. What can be said is it was a fresh hell indeed for those afflicted and those committed for different reasons.

Alison is the only hope for uncovering the truth of her mother’s illness and her grandmother’s past. What really drove Carole’s father to commit her mother? The two were once so deeply in love, despite their social standing. How did a life, once so full of promise, sour and turn nightmarish? The roots of the past are choking the life from Alison’s mother, and without her mother’s nurturing, Alison turns to tarrot cards, omens, her family’s mysteries to try and make sense of a world that has suddenly gone spinning off its axis. Alison’s maternal great grandmother Rosemarie once gave Solange a blue glass box and it must contain an answer of some sort. Solange came from people who made their living on boats, who worked themselves to the bone, some were said to be healers, but were they really just mentally ill? Savage people?

Carole’s heart is a wound, the terrifying fear that lurks in the darkest crevices of the mind when mental illness runs in a family disarms the reader. So terrified of becoming like Solange, Carole tries to hide the cracks when she needs glue to put her back together. It’s more than losing control, it’s the fear of losing one’s identity, reality even. Times were not kind to people struggling with mental instability and it sticks to those who witnessed the tragic outcome of early treatments. My compassion was deep for Carole, in fact for Solange and Alison too. It’s beautifully realistic in the way Alison’s father reacts, because so many people don’t know what to do when someone is ‘off’. Often, usually to dire consequences, signs go ignored and loved ones assume ‘they just need a rest, and then they’ll be right as rain.’ Her mother has always been reliable, a rock in the running of the garage her family owns and Alison’s father is too wrapped up in work to realize what is happening. He imagines it’s just a ‘change’ all women of a certain age go through. Alison is not convinced.

Carole’s father was a different story entirely. It’s not at all far fetched, what happened to Solange during that time. It’s strange how people set themselves apart, feel superior to those who have less or believe differently. When I sat back and really chewed on what happened to Carole’s mother Solange, I felt so much anger because although this is fictional, it was a reality not just for  women, but children that were ‘defective’- such an ugly word.  Mental health has always been something people want to bury, or lock up. Anything that makes the happy people uneasy is dealt with through an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ fix. Maybe we’re getting better, though not through leaps and bounds, as we should be. Yet back in the day… well… Solange was doomed and what exactly was her source of ‘mental decline’? You  must read to find out.

The author did a beautiful job writing about the women in this family. Sometimes even the strongest women can’t undo what’s been done. In Solange’s time, women didn’t have much power, certainly not when going against the paragons of society. Don’t look at the pretty cover and think it’s a light read, you’d be sorely mistaken. It’s terrible but hopeful too. Add this to your May reading list.

Publication Date: May 2, 2o17

Berkley Publishing Group

 

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