The Years After You by Emma Woolf

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There’s something going on. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but Harry’s been acting weird all evening. And there’s something else- the house feels different.

Relationships truly are a mystery, Lily’s is that much more complicated as ‘the other woman’. Desire takes us where it will, Lily knows this better than anyone when she falls in love with her boss married Harry,  twenty years her senior. He isn’t in love with his wife anymore, she isn’t giving him what he needs anymore but isn’t it always ease to poke another person’s ‘dead’ marriage with a stick, to commiserate with your lover, doesn’t it act as a spell to ward off logic? Pippa is Harry’s wife, Pippa who is in her mid forties and feels every bit of her age, who senses what she doesn’t know, feels Harry pulling away, checked out emotionally, going through the motions.  She knows something is off but isn’t seeing the whole puzzle, not yet. Isn’t sure of her doubts, but they are growing. Inside Harry resents Pippa, posting about their ‘happy’ family on social media, his marriage feels like a web he is caught in, desperate to understand where the carefree, beautiful woman she once was went. Of course here I think, she grew older, life’s demands pull at us, in any long term relationship, married or not, it’s hard to keep things fresh, the intimacy in living together pulls us close but too, it can be very unromantic, that’s life. When you have children, of course attention is divided and time is harder to corral.

Harry wants to be a good man, he loves his children but he feels alive again with Lily. He fell for the much younger Lily against his will, it isn’t some cheap thrill for him, and it’s taking an emotional toll. This love he has for her is enough to risk being caught, bringing her into his own home! All I could think was, does he want a confrontation, in a sense forcing Lily into solidifying her feelings, their relationship? This time they get away with it, but Harry doesn’t want to get away with it. He would give up everything for her. For Harry there must be a painful ending to reach the joyful beginning if he is to have Lily in his life, he must give up his wife, but what about his boys? Harry does torture himself, Lily soon becomes all he can feel!

Pippa is tracking Harry’s lies, people don’t lie unless there are secrets. He is no longer making an effort in their family. She has become the invisible wife, it can’t possibly be her insecurities, she sees him on the phone late at night, he is more often than not late from work, she can no longer ignore what is right in front of her face. But there is fear too in facing the ugly, brutal truth of no longer being wanted, loved. When the confrontation comes, he won’t be able to blame her, to tell her she is just ‘overeating’. Her words drift over cyberspace, her only comfort is through the followers of her blog who check on her. Just how much of her life, her marriage to Harry has been a lie? Is she to see things end? How much time does she need to get used to the idea of divorce? She isn’t the one who wants her family destroyed! She didn’t sign up for that. Should she just remain on the periphery of her own marriage hoping against hope that Harry will love her again, should she allow herself to die inside because he is unhappy and just get used to the idea?

Lily has allowed her life to revolve around her beloved Harry and stealing any time she can with him, always at his convenience, because it isn’t easy for a married father to get away. But what will happen if/when she has him fully to herself? Isn’t there safety too in a relationship that offers you freedom, the refreshing comfort of distance? What happens when you realize you don’t fully know the man you’ve entered into an affair with? That you aren’t privy to the same man as his wife is?

We stumble into love, fall in and out of it… it’s always thrilling at the start, when the dew hasn’t been wiped from our eyes, before we’ve uncovered flaws, and with affairs like Harry and Lily’s, you are not fully engaged in each other’s lives, there is protection in the bubble of your love. It’s not being tested in the way of family, friends, children and outside influences chipping away at your love for each other. Some do stay when they fall out of love in their own marriages, be it for the children, due to finances, their own inertia, their cowardice, out of loyalty and sometimes they fall back in love. Sometimes it’s not about your spouse, it’s your own funk that distorts reality.  Even if you leave for another woman/man, if it’s internal suffering, that goes with you too.

In Lily’s case, her sister tells her ‘you’re the free agent’ but in reality, that’s not true when you get entangled in another’s life, and allow them to help you. You have involved yourself, there is always the risk of it all coming crashing down when other people can be hurt.

For Harry he doesn’t see a solution, stay… leave… nothing is as it could be. He carries a heavy depression, but maybe it isn’t about Lily or Pippa maybe an affair is a catalyst. He is conflicted to the point of breakdown. His emotions are running away from him, he isn’t maintaining his calm, and there will be consequences for them all.

This is more about what remains in the aftermath of an affair. How things fall apart, or come together, what happens to those left behind to salvage whatever they can from the person they loved. It is an exploration of where we place blame and how we move on. I feel the story somehow is more about Lily, particularly towards the middle when we learn about her own abandoned family and her father Claude. Part two feels like another life entirely, and maybe that’s the point.

Can you answer the question “why do some people just pick up an leave”? Hmmm. Human beings are complicated wrecks sometimes. We often go against our better judgement and let our hearts take the lead. Love is a risk like anything else, even the best relationships can wither and die as much as the most ill advised ones can surprise us all and last a lifetime. Love can be found in the most unexpected places, even after you’ve lost hope.

Publication Date: October 8, 2019

Amberjack Publishing

 

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The Doll Factory: A Novel by Elizabeth Macneal

 

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Her eyes, sockets slightly hollowed, contained a loneliness and longing that felt at once familiar. It was as if an invisible cord united them.

Iris Whittle wants freedom, not to endure her sister Rose’s jealousy ‘until, at last, some scrawny boy fattens her with child after child’, slaving over laundry, cooking ‘rotten offal’ and  tending infants ‘mewling with scarlatina and influenza and God knows what else’. Iris and her twin sister Rose apprenticed at Mrs. Salter’s Doll Emporium, spends her day painting the delicate dolls faces, a ‘drudgery’- a dark skill at times painting custom dolls  from daguerreotypes of children, who may or may not be dead, ‘commemorative dolls’. She wants a way out of her life, but with a sick twin sister who relies on her, is marriage the only way? Youth and beauty is currency, but her passion is art, sketching since she was a child.

As The Great Exhibition “of the works of industry of all nations” is to be held in the Crystal Palace now being built in Hyde Park, London- it’s promise is calling out to Iris. It is a world for artists like herself  and what is more thrilling to someone whose life is nothing but toil, feeling like slavery? Then there is Silas and his specimens of the dead, his taxidermy shop, with aspirations for a museum, where he can share his world with the masses. If he could perfect preservation, freeze moments in time, rid the stench and rot of death…if only he could have better specimens, a thing so marvelous that others would be mesmerized, why then he would be someone! It’s never enough, these paltry commissions, not for a man of his ambitions! The average man has no idea the skill, the genius his creations require, no. It takes a discerning eye to appreciate the beauty, the art! These specimens are about life! Why do others only see the macabre?  At least he has ‘street brat’ Albie to scavenge for curiosities! It’s nothing for Albie using a hemp sack as his “Dead Creatures bag”, anything to make a shilling, a boy has gotta survive these mean London streets, even if you peddle death.

The 1850’s London our characters are living in is a far cry from the upper crust Victorian delicacy we think of- the fashion, the fine sensibilities, in The Doll Factory we have an atmospheric England with it’s more offensive smells and underbelly, the dark side of all those gentleman and their baser urges. Albie and others of his ilk turn to crime with limited choices, either pickpockets or prostitutes- their brutal worlds, never dreaming of the sheltered lives of children born to finer families. This is the darkest part of the novel, thinking of children up to their eyes in filth and the scum of the times. We love to look away from the ugly reality of the past, it’s hard to stomach, imagine living it. I’m the type watching Pride and Prejudice and thinking ‘wow, I wonder how awful the lives of the people serving the main characters were’, thinking ‘oh yeah, my luck I’d be the peasant, no time to pine after Darcy’. Not that I don’t love Jane Austen, I just think Victorian Times were more about the spread of infectious diseases like smallpox…syphilis… consumption- ah the past.

Back to the novel… it is through Albie that Silas has a most fortunate encounter with the beautiful Iris, honing in on an unusual part of her, awakening his obsession. Fate for some can be a dark shadow hovering, waiting for fulfillment. For Iris, it is her meeting with Lois Frost that is full of meaning, part of the PRB (Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), a man who trained at the Royal Academy and feels she would be the perfect model for him. A boon, he will pay her too! She sees this fine bit of luck as the the opportunity to learn how to paint under his tutelage, if he agrees it will seal the deal, her reservations be damned. There are more brave choices for her to make, sacrifices to earn that precious freedom to live as she wants, it could cost her not just her reputation but her family- but she can taste that other life, it’s so close. The threat of ruin isn’t enough to force her to change her course!

There is a thin veil between the present day and dreams for Silas as Iris has been sewn into the very fabric of his future. She longs to be Lois’s treasure, not imagining that she is already one man’s curiosity, the means to fulfillment- who says his visions are mad? Silas is biding his time, losing his grip on reality as each day ticks by. He wants to be taken seriously, he knows in time the world will see him as successful, fine gentleman! One day his work will pay off, then everyone who ever insulted him will be sorry. He is a man struggling with his obsessive desire, disgusted by others vices, while obsessing over Iris, watching, learning everything about her, more familiar with her habits than she herself is. The watching, lurking, waiting- this is how some men are forced to commune, to touch what they desire.

Obsession is shackles of the mind, much like ones used to keep someone in captivity. Silas is a tormented man, one who doesn’t take rejection lightly. She must she let him love her! He just needs her to accept his loyal friendship. She will be that someone who understands, accepts his world, his passion.

Everything is spiraling but that invisible cord, it connects them and everyone who stands between them.

Yes, read it if you enjoy dark historical fiction, and the underbelly of Victorian London. There is a stink of death clinging to the pages, the mad desperation of the lonely and the deception of our own minds.

Publication Date: August 13, 2019

Atria Books

 

 

 

 

I Am Heathcliff: Stories Inspired by Wuthering Heights Curated by Kate Mosse

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Maria thinks how habituated she now is to interpretation, how experienced at watching a face. (from Terminus by Louise Doughty)

I was in love with Emily Brontë’s book Wuthering Heights when I was in junior high school, mooning about Heathcliff, naturally I had to read this collection of stories inspired by Brontë’s only published novel. Some of the stories had me deeply engaged, especially Terminus. There is something brutal when you lose yourself, when Maria looks at a young woman and thinks “We are each other’s inverse”, it’s such a loud thought, raw. How Maria was once untouched, free of this misery, this cruel love. The heightened state of the abused, the sea that can soothe and destroy (much like love), “The sea is me. Or I am the sea.” Wuthering Heights was quite the story of abusive love itself, one where there was no escape from the affection you should run from.

Thicker Than Blood by Erin Kelly is perfect for the age we live in making me wonder with a sinking sensation just how many people will relate to it. Heath’s unhealthy addiction with Cath, sorting  not just through her social media but those in her circle for his fix, while hapless Izzy may as well be filler space until he is with his Cath. Though really, he is always with Cath in time virtually, a lovesick lunatic pinging himself for any news, any photo of her while his devoted Izzy just looks on with longing, put down your phone, please see me? The phone a portal that allows him to never be away from his obsession? What sort of sick, one-sided love is that? The disgust he feels toward Izzy is a live wire, Izzy ‘mouth breathing down his neck”, how dare she want his time, love? This is a modern retelling of Wuthering Heights and it spirals into darkness, obsession that goes into the rotted soil.

How Things Disappear is a gut punch. A young woman is just a ‘sturdy shell, and only the things inside shimmered to nothingness.’ I would think there have been times, if you’re lucky it’s a short stretch, where you feel yourself spilling out, dissolving, dissipating ‘the world took so much of her without permission’, who hasn’t felt that very thing? We are so often ill prepared for what life is going to throw our way, how do we contain the core essence of what it means to be? How do we maintain our soul, and not become just another walking zombie? I think that I felt a bit of Catherine here, doomed to disappear, Heathcliff’s love is the world that took from her. Just something I was thinking.

In Heathcliff Is Not My Name we are in Heathcliff’s mind, “they called you dark-skinned gypsy, dirty Lascar, vagabond, devil. You’ll give them dark, dirt, devil.” This is what made him, this is what led to black nights, the seed of hatred, the birth of poisonous love. Never ‘molleycoddled’ in his entire life not one lick of tenderness, hating those who live in their carefree, happy little worlds like precious pets. He is the dog that gets kicked, if not put down, I think this story was my favorite.

Kit by Juno Dawson didn’t fit but it certainly exposes the ways we humiliate ourselves, build up these ridiculous stories to feed our desires, how we become something other than we are, creating a fictional version, thinking we can push our way into the object of our affections world. It’s a shallow story, and the desperation is painful so it got a reaction out of me. You can’t force it, you just can’t.

The majority of the collection moved me in some way, took me back to the unhealthy, doomed love in Wuthering Heights! If you’re a fan, there are a few stories in here that work magic.

Out Now

HarperCollins

The Borough Press

What I Lived For by: Joyce Carol Oates

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Always Jerome Corcoran would recall how nothing that is has the power to evoke what was.

Jerome Andrew Corcoran, “Corky” is a 43-year-old real estate developer and broker, a city councilman with a future in politics. He is also so much a MAN that you almost have to wonder, have you ever had a mother? Do you even like women? I tried to like him, I tried but it’s hard!  His mother did fall apart after his father’s murder, surely that did something to him. Childhood trauma absolutely molds us in some way. Oates brings her characters alive, down to the disgusting things that go through their mind. With Joyce Carol Oates you have a guarantee the characters she creates are never censored beings. There is nothing diluted in Corky, and he isn’t better for it, no sir… but he is more believable. “He is a man in motion. No sooner gets to one place and loves it then he’s restless and bored and can’t bear to stay another minute.” He is exhausting, intolerable and unapologetically what other men used to believe exemplified manliness. A man who would, to my way of thinking, smell of smoke, whiskey, sweat and the lingering expensive perfume of his last lover. What made him this way, is it the horrific tragedy from his childhood when “God struck swiftly and without warning. No Mercy.” Did something die in him or worse, was some misery born out of the grief? Is it the tragedy of knowing and not knowing what you should know?

Union City, New York is his! Democrat, businessman, popular guy! “Forty-three years old. Not young but anyway not old.”  This Irishman has got plans and time is on his side, he is sure Christina Kavanaugh is his but then he is sure of a lot of things isn’t he, Mr. Cocksure? He’s high and mighty now, nothing of the boy with humble beginnings and the air of tragedy hanging about him. The past is behind him, where it will stay. The women love him, but Thalia, his ex-step daughter with ex-wife Charlotte Drummond (11 years that one lasted) is one female that knows how to play games with him. A young woman of “unpredictable moods”, who leaves a message that she needs help, it’s serious and then nothing. Unreachable. But he can’t think about that, his mind is on Christina and he’s hot for her now! Corky’s not one for thinking about the whys of his own life, ‘he’s not a guy comfortable inside his own head’, and let’s face it, many of us won’t feel comfortable in his head-space either but damn if I wasn’t engaged poking around in there.

He has made it, all I kept thinking is ‘he’s a mover and a shaker’ and of course there is going to be corruption and betrayal in every corner! Power welcomes it. All those smiling people, maybe for all the screwing he is up to it’s Corky being screwed, not the women. In the beginning there is a traffic jam, caused by a young woman’s suicide, strange that yet another tragic death will again be a pivotal moment in his life, just like his father’s murder. He’s middle aged and haunted by his past, he tries to fill himself up on success and sex and women. If you can control everything, than tragedy can’t touch you, right? Neither can age. Is he a pig? Yes and no, maybe he has something redeemable, you have to stick with the novel long enough to find out. How is Thalia tied into all of this, what has she done? What does she know? We all want to be seen as who we profess ourselves to be. The only difference here is we are privy to Corky’s deepest thoughts, to the things that stir him, even shameful desires. We see behind the closed door, when he erupts, hitting his woman. Yeah, like I said, he isn’t exactly the guy you want to love. Women, he knows, you can get away with anything, even the worst things about a man, ‘if they love you, you can’t lose’ and such women will find terrible things sexy, forgivable. It pisses you off, because there are plenty of people who think just this way! Worse, it is sometimes true!

With Thalia, “by Corky’s request she never called him anything other than “Corky”, she was obviously kept at a distance, no ‘daddy’ aspirations, fuzzy father daughter intimacies he can remind her of. The resentment she feels for him as fresh as yesterday, likening him to her grandfather seemingly disinterested herself in all her wealth, the very power and success he needs. He thinks he has her figured out, like all women but maybe it’s she that has him pegged. His hunger, knowing he probably is sexually stirred by her too. Maybe he has tried to remain unaffected, but Thalia is in a bad way, which begs the question, what will he do about it? Who the hell can he trust? All those mighty people rubbing shoulders and the terrible rotten things they do. Will he be a hero? Shouldn’t he, of all people, understand injustice?

All of Oates’ work speaks for itself, even if you find a character repulsive or more human than you want to admit, it can’t be denied she can really get into the mind of anyone she so chooses. While not my favorite, I always find her work meaty.

Publication Date: July 23, 2019

ECCO

HarperCollins

The Man Who Saw Everything:A Novel by Deborah Levy

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“Yes,” older Jennifer said, “I knew I had to get away from your love as fast as possible.”

It is 1988, Saul Adler is a beautiful, young Historian thinking only about his glamorous girlfriend Jennifer, a photographer who is planning to take a picture of him crossing Abbey Road just like the Beatles album cover for his host’s sister Luna, who adores the Beatles. In three days he is meant to leave for East Germany (GDR) to research “cultural opposition  to the rise of facism in the 1930s at Humboldt University”. Granted permission  into the archives for promising to ‘engage sensitively’ and ‘focus on education, healthcare and housing for all it’s citizens’, subjects of which he had discussed with his own father before he died.  Here Walter Müller will be his translator but right now his mind is stuck on Jennifer when he is nearly run over in a zebra crossing (pedestrian crosswalk) falling back instead on the curb. The car that comes seemingly out of nowhere and nearly hits him is driven by a man in his sixties named Wolfgang, and so follows a peculiar interaction, the novel itself is a peculiar interaction with the reader and yet compelling for this very reason. Looking back on his notes from the night before, his hip sore from the fall, he thinks about his dead father who was a tyrant much like Joseph Stalin. He remembers how his brother doled out the punishment for their father, for Saul being so fragile, so much like his dead mother, for not being the right sort of son, his father offended always by his ‘sublime beauty’.  Beauty that can seem to the reader like a blessing and curse. His relationship with Jennifer is crumbling and he isn’t really sure why.  Jennifer feels she isn’t really seen by Saul, does she wish to be seen beyond her beauty, is that why describing her with words is verboten? But does she see him beyond his ‘sublime beauty’ or care about his mind? He is confused by her adamant complaints that he doesn’t see her, doesn’t know anything about her art of which, by the way, he is the subject, but she is all he sees! He would marry her! She wants to end things, ‘you will always be my muse‘ and so with the death of his father and relationship ending he is ready for great change.  It is in GDR that his life splits and forks when he meets his translator Walter Müller and Walter’s sister Luna. Told not to say ‘everything was grey and crumbling’ in his report, the truth is Walter is a relief, spending time laughing in his company, finding pleasure in someone who isn’t about ‘material gain’ frees Saul. Censorship here, he knows, isn’t any different than Jennifer’s censorship of his thoughts and feelings for her.

Something strange is happening, objects look familiar like the tiny carved wooden train Walter is holding. There are new desires too, who knew mushroom hunting could be such a pleasurable experience. With his father’s ashes in tow, the haunting memories of his past too have hitched a ride. People he meets become consumed by him, Saul always the center of others. Luna is no exception. “Your hair is so black. Like the birds in the fields.” There is a lot he doesn’t see in GDR too, truths about Walter, Luna, and Walter’s colleague Rainier. Just who is Rainier really, with his acoustic guitar and interested questioning? It’s not just about communism, country, family, sex or love. It’s all those things. It’s about time and memories, about how our version of reality can be a fiction we tell ourselves. We are all haunted houses, in a sense, age at times bringing more questions, regrets like phantoms.

The past, present and future come at us fast and we are all splintered beings. Saul’s love is fluid, and not any easier for it. We are really not the stars in anyone’s lives, not even our own. When told to ‘go back to your world’, which world is that? People are suddenly older, and Saul knows everything but not how or why. His story is shattered, time is slippery and faces, people are blurring and blending. It’s how we fail to be there, how we destroy others being entrenched so deeply in ourselves. Everything is a weight, even the things we think we shucked off.

This is like a drunken read I don’t believe I would have understood were I younger, fresher and less jaded. It’s horrible and beautiful because it reveals cracks in human beings, I think. You get lost in the tangle, the shame, joy, pain, love and confusion of Saul’s life. Missing so much like you will in your own, if you live long enough for regrets, for a long hard look in a fractured mirror reflecting the many versions of you. I like that the Abbey Road photograph is the beginning of this story, we have these photographic memories of ours that never tell the whole tale, only hint at what is happening. These flashes of ours, wondering what’s outside the photo, who is the eye, what are the subjects thinking and feeling behind what we can behold. This novel put me in a weird frame of mind.

This is certainly an engaging read, but it is dizzying. In the beginning you are like a newborn baby trying to make sense of weird occurrences, not understanding up from down.

Deborah Levy’s writing can unsettle you, but I enjoy her work for that reason.

Publication Date: October 15, 2019

Bloomsbury Publishing

 

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

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But they were not attractive children, the rest of their faces soft and undefined. They looked ratty. I hadn’t even tried to fix their cult haircuts. I feared that fixing them would only make the kids more plain.

Lillian and Madison, an unlikely pair became tight friends at Iron Mountain Girls Preparatory School, hidden on a mountain in the middle of nowhere, where all the rich people sent their daughters. Lillian, having grown up poor in the valley of the mountain with a single mother knew she just needed ambition and and a scholarship, her ticket out of a luckless life. It doesn’t matter if her mother thinks this ‘opportunity’ isn’t the golden ticket her daughter thinks it is. That you can’t just go from the pits to a palace, that reaching too high can only lead to a greater fall, bigger disappointment.

With Madison’s friendship she comes to understand true power and what loyalty costs. There is an incident and Lillian must leave the school and abandon her dream for a better future, slipping mostly out of Madison’s life too. Working now as a cashier, Lillian’s life is antithesis to her old friend’s, who is ‘famous in political circles’, living a charmed life of wealth and still glamorous in her ways, with a perfect little boy named Timothy. Humming inside of Lillian is still the attraction, the need to please Madison, the desire to be needed by her. It is a desperate plea that has returned Madison to Lillian, her husband Jasper is up for secretary of state and his other two children by his ex-wife Jane have a peculiar affliction, they burst into flames upon any sort of upset. No, it isn’t a joke! It’s untenable in the limelight, how could Jasper explain, how could he reach success with children always on the verge of combustion? Imagine the danger, the chaos! All Lillian has to do is keep the children safe, calm and really, what does she have to lose? Her life is already ash anyway, really this is her salvation to Madison’s way of thinking and it’s infuriating that she may be right.

As Lillian enters the children’s life, hoping to tame them and manage their strange illness her heart expands and this temporary world comes to feel more important than any dream she ever conjured. She understands too well Bessie and Roland’s disappointments, because that is all her life has been made of, too she understands their inability to fit in anywhere and how their strange little hearts beat so much like her own. She will come to be more of a mother than their ‘governess’ and do anything to protect them. How are families made? Sometimes our wants and desires arrive disguised as disordered worlds, as lonely, dangerous children alight with fire.

This is one of the strangest, sweetest books I’ve read all year. It put a warm little fire in this heart of mine!

Yes, read it! It will warm you up in the cold of November. Wonderful fall fiction.

Publication Date: November 5, 2019

HarperCollins  Publishers

 

The Lines: A Novel by Anthony Varallo

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When the children return home from another weekend at their father’s, their mother says she has something to tell them. Great, the girl thinks. Whenever an adult tells you they have something to tell you- run. Run fast! Run fast and keep running.

It is the summer of 1979 and one family of four is splitting apart, a time when separation and divorce wasn’t quite as common as it is today. The girl seems to understand all the things that hum beneath the surface even though she is only 10 years old, things her brother, at the age 7, remains clueless about. Is this going to fix all the sorrow, this divide? How will becoming two families make life easier? It just doubles the problems doesn’t it, when you split things in half?  The boy certainly has questions about life as it’s unraveling.

Father is no longer living at home, father no longer being the man of the house isn’t there as things fall into disrepair. Is he really still a father then? Does the boy then step into daddy’s too big absent shoes and become man of the house? It’s all mass confusion. The kids are taking on the slack left behind now that mom returned to school. Then the dating, the parents are dating people! Bad enough they have to get used to two homes, two rooms, two separate lives  now doors are opening to strangers? Dad has a girlfriend, they won’t mention this to mom, and this girlfriend Sarah becomes a stand in mom when they are at their dad’s. In fact, she is often more engaged than their father, watching them at the pool.

The father had forgotten what being a bachelor means, the ‘essential’ things he can’t recall, the cooking, the food shopping and darn if he doesn’t miss his garage. Father not that good when it comes to attentiveness towards his son and daughter, hasn’t that always fallen to the mother before? Why can’t father make relationships work, even with someone new? Why must the girl be so aware of the ways her daddy falls short? There is something obscene in seeing your parents as human, with their fault lines.

“Why, the girl wonders , is life so often a matter of answering yes to things you’d rather say no to?”  Like meeting Mom’s new man. Seeing your father date is bad enough, and seeing his relationship fail is something she doesn’t wish to witness. Both parents are letting some parenting go, it’s different depending which home they are at. The summer is a bust, school feels more tempting than all this time on their hands, all this terrible change. There is a new man on the scene, Cliff. The mother’s friends are pushing her, find someone. Cliff is someone.

Cliff can fix things, make life easy, help bear the brunt. Sister is getting salty with her mother, challenging, fed up. With Cliff comes Marcus, who thinks he knows everything and is probably as clueless as the brother and sister. Everything is a crap show, the adults have all lost their senses. There is no compass, life without an anchor even Gumma tells her grandchildren their childhood is over now, coming from a broken home. It’s so sad when the adults try to make a new normal, failing time and again. The parents are terrible, according to Gumma. Everyone and their opinions, their insights! Bitter adults!

Is their marriage really over? Will their parents realign themselves and everything return to normal? One thing is certain, it’s going to be a terrible summer. All that happens is beneath the skin and mind, “There’s such a relief, the girl thinks, in knowing no one knows your thoughts.” For both the mother and the father, life full of financial demands, at least they no longer have to attend to each others bottomless need, but what to do with all this freedom? Life is still life, as a mother, as a father there will always be things and children pulling you this way and that. As the novel says, “Human misery, there’s never a shortage of it”, whether you are married or not. The children shoulder the separation and their parents failings, understanding raining upon them as heavy as the suffocating heat of the summer.

Yes, read it.

Publication Date: August 15, 2019

University of Iowa Press