The Great Unknown: A Novel by Peg Kingman

45894169._UY400_SS400_

Nothing happens; and nothing happens; and still nothing happens. Everything remains the same… or so it seems. But the truth is that everything is changing imperceptibly all the time.

The Great Unknown set in the 1840’s Britain and France, forces one to confront the question that has haunted us all from the dawning of time. What does it mean to be me,  to be a human being at all? Who am I? What is meant for me? Where do I come from? What does it all mean? Am I superior to animals, after-all, aren’t I an animal myself? This was a time when everyone alive was challenging the religious beliefs in the name of scientific discovery. This could be seen as dangerous, questioning what we’re meant to blindly believe. Science vs God, even now is rocky terrain but then it could be downright sacrilege.

Then there is the Chartist movement, whose goal during this time was to gain rights and political influence for the working class, which naturally upset the upper classes. Surely you can’t let just anyone have sway in politics, how can the average man carry any weight in the important decisions of one’s time? Everyone has their own view on this.

The novel begins with wet nurse, Mrs. Constantia MacAdam, providing milk for an infant born to a merry, wealthy family- the Chambers. Welcomed into the fold more like a  friend than a servant, she grieves the loss of her own twin infant boy while nourishing her surviving twin daughter and the Chamber’s son, born with extra fingers and toes. We learn her name isn’t quite her own, for her past is shadowed by the loss of her mother when she was a little girl, while  no true history of her real father remains. Living in a household filled with people of a curious, questioning nature, it’s impossible to not be disturbed by her own bottomless pit of mystery. Separated from her own dear husband, in order to give birth to their twins,  and for reasons she will keep to herself, communication is precarious between them.  Tormented by her mother’s secrecy before her tragic death, her deep love and memories flit about, unable to secure any solid evidence of her own origins. Her beautiful mother, who lived a bohemian existence, raising her in India, keeping her past veiled left her with endless questions.  Is life a twist of fate, are we guided by god, is it orderly, disorderly?

Others think of Mrs. MacAdams as a French hussy, whose terrible fashion sense certainly speaks loudly for her worth, or lack thereof. Good women do not go by false names, and can it be trusted that she is even married at all? But Mrs. Chambers knows that “folk may have perfectly innocent reasons for preserving a discreet anonymity”. In this household too, children are permitted to read scandalous books, such as the Vestiges. An anonymous book published that dealt with speculative natural history, embraced by polite society, inspiring people’s thinking to turn towards science, before Darwin’s Origin of the Species was published. Naturally to the clergy minded, it was criticized. Nature should be proof of God’s existence, not an argument against it!  Throughout this book, evolution is a theme but so too is the strange happenstance that occurs in so many of our lives. Which do we cling to? Is it like Lady Janet believes? That “incalculable harm may be wrought by such a book”? Certainly there can be nothing evil about looking to fossils, to trying to find answers and meaning? Nothing wrong in studying the evolution of creatures, plants…  Just as intelligent and progressive as the family, she fits in perfectly- sharing a love of fossils with Mrs.Chambers.

It is a novel of not just self discovery but of trying to embrace some sort of order in this, the great unknown. Everyone in the book engages in the new discoveries, even debating geological matters. Each has their say. Political matters account for much of the novel too, as all men who work this earth should have a voice, and risk death to use it. To think what we read can be a threat to the old ways.

There is scandal and shame in Mrs. MacAdam’s single mother’s past, but she will, as the strange whims of fate have it, get to the root of the truth.

The book began slowly and eventually I began to be more invested in Constantia’s story. There are deeper questions that may exasperate some readers and it can feel like a lesson at school which is great if it’s your fancy and you want to learn about geology, and the shift of scientific thinking among the masses.

Publication Date: February 18, 2020

W.W. & Norton Company

 

And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges by Amber Sparks

45894105

What kind of tragedy is this? It’s not grand and operatic at all; it’s just awful, just like all the other awful hurts that happen to people like us.

Would I call this latest collection of stories a release of female rage? No, but they certainly bite and then wink and nod, nudge nudge- get a load of this! How do we still manage to find humor in the horror of it? Well, it’s what keeps us sane. History remembers men and all their greatness, “allowing” for women to live only in their shadow as a helpmate. Nothing proves this more than A Short and Slightly Speculative History of Lavoisier’s Wife. It tells the story of how ‘wifey’ secured her dead husband’s place in history, despite the threats, the terror of revolutionaries. In Marie’s day there wasn’t band of sisterhood behind you to charge forward in support of your brave fights. None of that for our Marie-Anne Pierrette. Speaking up, shaking cages could cost you your head, but she would not be cowed!  This little woman, little scholar, little child bride, little “wifey” meant to be nothing more than erased by history is given some attention as Sparks digs up the bones of her past.

Ghosts are anything but romantic in Everyone’s a Winner in Meadow Park. For a young girl, who senses this ethereal being “like a shadow over the sun”, the ghost is more witness to her miserable existence than any sort of help. This is the place her own mother’s dreams came to die and where it’s dangerous to be a girl. A place where life is nothing but tragic and it seems impossible to scrape a grain of a dream in the dirt.

Love as sacrifice in We Destroy the Moon, because the lost, the hopeless need a demigod, a prophet. If it is the end, who will heal and lead us? What is a woman but a piece of mother earth for her cult leader lover to offer up? Will she remain a loyal believer or abandon the last hope of her heart?

Loud, ridiculous women in need of an audience disappear. Some use their invisibility as a survival skill, happy to be overlooked in other tales. A girl tells her family story out of sequence in Eyes of Saint Lucy, the main star her strange mother, a  chain-smoking, tea and whiskey sipping ‘suburban ascetic’.  This wild girl, raised on her mother’s religion of martyred saints and mystics, so much a part of an artist’s dream can’t help but be more her mother than her father’s child. What happens when the feral boy enters the story? This tale was a bit down the rabbit’s hole for me, and I loved it. Untamed or orderly can a woman ever put her faith in men, be they brothers or lovers? This would make a heck of a novel, in my wishful thinking. Mother as wispy as a cloud and yet as deadly as poison.

In We Were a Storybook Back Then a child is trapped in a spell that the other children try desperately to break. Is imagination ever enough to break the curse of being different? In Rabbit by Rabbit memories vanish and reappear, a life like a magic trick in a magicians hat. This one was a little gut punch, because if we live long enough, everything we’ve endured goes into the trick.

There are relationships that sputter to life only to die out, beaten by hard luck or brutal hands. Lion tamers that get eaten, husbands who grow wings, robots curious about humans eroding memories, and a childless couple with moments of extraordinary happiness. There are revenges within and an anchor of pain. I am a fan of Amber Sparks, I loved The Unfinished World and Other Stories and was over the moon to see she has another books of short stories coming out, of course I snagged this ARC. This collection is a bit different, but I still enjoyed it. The women have a voice, and it’s not always pretty which is the point! It’s not about being well behaved little girls, how can one be in dark times? I really hope Sparks writes a full novel, her characters can be messy and dangerous but I still want to spend time with them. Yes, read it.

 

Publication Date: February 11, 2020

W.W. Norton & Company

Liveright

 

Love After Love: A Novel by Ingrid Persaud

44307131._SY475_

Thing is, worse than the pain in my arm is Sunil’s spirit in the house. The man in the walls, on the stairs, in the rooms. Before he passed he must have put the bad eye on me for truth. 

Love After Love is an interesting title for this novel, because it is about love but not the sort we tend to seek out with romanticized notions. Love here is far stronger between friends and family than in lovers, forced into terrible situations and entanglements for passion. Written in Trinidadian dialect it may take some readers time to get into the flow, but I feel it lends a more authentic flavor to the tale. It begins with Betty Ramdin’s husband Sunil, stinking of rum and feeling big and mean after ‘working hard all week’ he is taking everything out on Betty and their little boy Solo. From the way Betty caters to him, the ugliness spewing from his hateful mouth and her terror as she watches him bully Solo it’s obvious she is like a beaten down dog, trained on the scent of her husband’s brutality. It’s for her son that she fears, who she tries to protect, often inserting herself to do the things Sunil demands of Solo, so that when his clumsy little boy hands fail he won’t get punished. To think people told her she was lucky, looking at Betty with Sunil by her side, but what sort of lucky leaves you with broken bones and a cowering child? Sunil may be dead in a few pages, but his poison has spread and his death will have damaging consequences through the years, testing the bounds of love between mother and son.

Betty is a good mother, trying to raise her boy right once she’s free from the imprisonment of a bad marriage but living in the big old house she could use money and a lodger would be ideal. After giving Mr. Chetan (her co-worker) a ride one morning, Betty mentions she needs a lodger, if he knows of anyone needing a place, particularly a mature woman, it would help her greatly. This in turn becomes the perfect opportunity for Mr. Chetan, as fate would have it, his landlord is selling everything thanks to the misfortune of crime. A gentle, quiet, private man he will be no hardship, though Betty herself seems to be talkative and possibly a meddler in time the two come to mean as much to each other as devoted spouses.

Both Mr. Chetan and Betty have shameful secrets, even criminal to some minds, but in life we are pushed to make choices to save ourselves, and others. There are rules about love and in Trinidad trying to embrace who you are under the condemning eyes of the people can be one’s ruination. People are fast to talk, Betty learns this all too well as she ventures out for a man’s touch, much to her son Solo’s humiliation. Despite Mr. Chetan’s role in his life, a type of surrogate father and a far better one than his own departed dad, when Solo discovers what his mother has kept hidden from him he concocts a plan and with his savings soon abandons their life and flees to live with his paternal uncle in New York. Betty thinks it’s temporary, but he wants nothing more than to be free of her and her lies, to cut her out like a cancer. In the process, he pushes Mr. Chetan to take a backseat role too, and the thing about leaving is that you can’t always return to the people you have left.

The dynamics change once Solo is gone, Chetan is living his life more freely, maybe more for himself finally when someone from the past is again in his life. Betty is yearning to hear about her son’s experience in America, jealous of the closeness he has with his uncle while she is again like a dog begging for a bone, resorting to sending letters to the boy who refuses to see sense in her explanations. He is keen on his pain, and finds many outlets for it.

Solo struggles in New York but feels good being a part of the Ramdin men under his Uncle Hari’s guidance, and no longer under the ‘suffocating’ care of his mother, who kept him a blind fool. Hari tells him it won’t be easy working hard jobs, he should stay in school as his dad would have wanted that but having Solo around he tells him ‘Every time I look at you I seeing piece of Sunil.’  Solo cannot go back to Trinidad and his mother’s lies. Through Uncle Hari, Solo can get to know the father who is just a fading memory and cling to the toxic blame he feels is all his mother’s due. The truth, the same as people, has many faces and may well turn us against the very people who made dangerous decisions for our sake. It will cost Solo, his mother Betty and Mr. Chetan time that they will never get back.  Solo has a lot to learn and finds he is more like his mother than he thinks; getting a mother who has cared for you all your life out of your system isn’t so easy.

In this story some people’s love is so pure they are willing to risk their very soul and yet others can’t find enough heart to accept their child for who they are. Some are so hungry for love they will tolerate any sort of arrangement just to feel alive, to be near their beloved and society itself forces people into dangerous situations just to feel the burn of it. Love shouldn’t cost this much. Shame weighs more than the soul can bear, but how do you release it’s grip? “The moon can run but the day will always catch it.” There is family dysfunction, grief, abuse, distorted memory, mother’s pure love and then some. Here, Mr. Chetan is the glue between Betty and Solo, for that it is a savage and beautiful love story.

Publication Date: April 14, 2020

Random House Publishing

One World

A QUICK NOTE: There are sexual encounters that may put off some readers but it is not the sole focus, keep going with the novel. It broke my heart.

Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King

GUEST_e0634ed9-caba-4acd-9d2e-4906cab1577d

‘How’s the novel?’ He says it like I made the word up myself. 

‘You know,’ he says, pushing himself off his car, waiting for my full attention. ‘I just find it extraordinary that you think you have something to say,’ may well be the most condescending, snide thing to say to a woman, especially one that is writing a book. Casey Peabody is a writer, even if she is blocked, even if she never finishes more than eleven pages. Published or not, she writes because if she doesn’t ‘everything feels worse.’ The fellow writers she once shared an apartment with when she was young and fresh have dropped off their writing like dead flies, moving on to more practical careers, choosing instead to lead real adult lives. To think she once had such promise, a child prodigy playing professional golf, talented beyond her years, means nothing. That’s all dried up now. She’s traveled, had a romance (if not with the man, then with the language they shared) only to return to all her debts, particularly student loans. Life was once free and easy when the answer was credit cards, but those happy days are over and bought happiness, like everything else, comes due. She certainly didn’t mean to move back to Massachusetts, but without any other plan, here she is, living a life in default. After the crushing weight of her mother’s unexpected, sudden death life feels far more rudderless. The one salvation and bitter sweet victory is the artist’s residency at The Red Barn, and yet…  a man and messy love finds her there, when she is at her most vulnerable.

In the aftermath of loss, riding her bike (salvaged from junk) to work, living in a side garage her brother’s friend ‘graciously’ rents to her, working in a restaurant barely making enough to survive, we find Casey longing for her mother during the day and burning for the man she met at Red Barn in the night. Emotionally wobbly, hungry to finish her novel and yet doubtful it will happen as she gets older and older, Casey spends more energy torn between two men than creating a great work. The men she must choose between are at different points in their life, complete opposites, while she herself is anchored in past hurts and many disappointments. Who is she, where is she going? Does she just need to grow up and find something more ‘stable’, realize the artist’s life of writing isn’t viable for her? Does either man have a place in her life, or she in theirs? Which man is the right one? Is there such a thing as ‘the right one’?

How do you heal from the wounds of the past, find a romantic life without sacrificing yourself and not waste the few chances laid at your feet that could lead to a successful career? Is it easier to just forget your dreams, as others have? Why must the people you meet and love on the way be as messy as yourself? Why must relationships cloud your mind and knock you off your track? Her own parents relationship isn’t exactly the model to follow.

Regardless of your age, social status, career and the people in your life, you are never finished nor completely sure everything will end in your favor. Casey is at a turning point, a moment that leads to the bigger decisions, but how can she know if her choices will lead to the desired outcome, especially with dwindling confidence? We are along for the ride, sometimes along a bridge, as Casey tries to define her future. Everyone is a complicated mess at some point on the timeline of their lives, we just happen to step into Casey’s as she is lost in the confusion of heartbreak and loss.  Will she give up her dreams, or find her way around the obstacles, the biggest one being herself? It is a story of youth as it leaves and what sacrifices must be made to finally become a real grown up, whatever that means. Lost in general, but there is hope. A solid read to add to your TBR list.

Publication Date: March 3, 2020

Grove Atlantic

Grove Press

 

 

 

 

How to Pronounce Knife: Stories by Souvankham Thammavongsa

40126496

They’d had to begin all over again, as if the life they had before didn’t count. 

In these stories Souvankham Thammavongsa allows the reader into the painful and sometimes humorous lives of immigrants. In some situations it is better to tell no one where you’re from, what language you speak so you are not judged. It is in rebirth that the future lies, and for children of immigrants there are often humiliations they don’t quite comprehend yet innately understand they must try to protect their parents from. My attention was grabbed from the first story where a little girl comes home with a note pinned to her chest (how well I remember the importance of such notes when I was a kid), notes that for this child have no meaning for the mother and lead to misunderstandings. Bigger humiliation visits this child when she brings home a book to read for practice and the parents attempt to help her understand a word. There is tender pride sometimes in misunderstandings. I couldn’t help but feel a connection with my father’s own youth when reading about the little girl in the first story. The memories he has of how it felt to be on the outside, trying to understand the American way of life, it is so much more than language but that is by far the hardest obstacle. She had my heart!

In Paris, Red is stuck in the chicken plant thinking about the shapes of women’s noses, and ‘the things that could make you happy’, but such happiness is available only to those who make enough money to attain it. Certainly a chicken plucker never could! In her town, there isn’t much a woman can do beyond chickens or shaking their own tail feathers, so to speak. This story is an exploration on what is beauty, dependent on where you are, naturally.

Age has its hungers in Slingshot, as a much older woman proves wrinkles aren’t in one’s heart, only the face. In another tale a mother has a runaway fantasy about a celebrity that causes her daughter and husband to lose their glimmer, she suffers from the disease of hopeless devotion in one form or another. A husband in The School Bus Driver finds his wife’s boss a little too helpful and present in their marriage. Disbelieving “people form this kind of friendship in this country,” he isn’t just a jealous man nor a fool! In Mani Pedi, former boxer Raymond used to knock people out in the ring but now works at a nail salon, realizing he ‘wasn’t the only person who’d ever lost the place he saw for himself in the world’. It isn’t only Raymond who is warned to keep his dreams small. In many stories there is an ache for more. There are young children driving through a neighborhood with their parents wishing to live in the bigger homes that come into view, unfamiliar with the strange customs, like trick- or-treating yet game to try to join in the door to door fun. In a heavy tale a mother impresses upon her daughter that she feels lucky earning money picking worms having been born in a peasant family who had no money for educating their children. It is through these slimy creatures and her ability to fill cups with many squirmers that she can hope for a better future for her daughter. Characters try to make their own place in the world, like Mr. Vong with his print shop, priding himself on the reputation of his deft skills with wedding invitations made in the Lao language. A keen eye, too, he has in the success or failure of relationships, but how will that play out in his own family?

Every story made the characters vulnerable, it is a visit in the lives immigrants make for themselves and often with next to nothing. There is beauty and heartbreak, shame, struggle, humor, love and resentment too. Beautifully written. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: April 21, 2020

Little, Brown and Company

The Girl with the Louding Voice: A Novel by Abi Daré

50214741._SX318_SY475_

But I don’t want to born anything now. How will a girl like me born childrens? Why I fill up the world with sad childrens that are not having a chance to go to school? Why make the world to be one big, sad, silent place because all the childrens not having a voice?

Adunni’s mother once told her that an education is the only way for a Nigerian girl to have a ‘louding voice’. Without an education, a woman cannot speak up for herself, will never be able to support a life of her own, nor have any say at all in what happens to her body, mind and soul. After the worst day of Adunni’s life, schooling is a long forgotten dream and all hopes die. It is after a tragic loss that her father demands Adunni be a dutiful daughter and become a third wife to a much older man, the taxi driver Morufu. This is the only way she can save her family when her father cannot afford the rent anymore, bad enough he couldn’t afford to let her continue her education, but a threat looms and he could lose the roof over their heads. As a daughter, her bride-price will be enough to pay the community rent so that her brother Kayus and father won’t be kicked out. But in forcing Adunni, only fourteen years old, to marry an old fool- he is breaking a promise to her mother. She must do as she’s told, never in a million years would she see her father and little brother homeless, hungry.

Just like that she is married off and slaving away as a third wife, hated by the first, Labake. Her welcome isn’t warm, it is a cold threat, “When I finish with you in this house, you will curse the day your mother born you…”  To first wife, Adunni is a husband snatcher, there to birth him children and try to replace her. What good is a woman if she isn’t fertile? Yet, this isn’t the worst of what Adunni will suffer through. She will do her time in Morufu’s house, where he is king to long suffering women who provide him with useless daughters. She learns fast just what it means for a man to have the devil inside of him. Obey, or there will be beatings. If she runs away, then what will that mean for her family who are now well fed? Her husband is, after-all, considered a rich man in his village- who else has two cars?

Running away isn’t necessarily the road to salvation. A girl with nothing is reliant on the kindness of strangers and too easily fooled into situations as bad as the ones she escaped from. Ignorance and youth make it impossible to navigate the brutality of those who would use it to their advantage. It is a crime to run, therefore what other choice is there than to bow your head in respect, work your fingers to the bone and endure, endure all manner of abuse, endure others taking their cut from your servitude? If the man of the house comes sniffing around, you do your best to hide. Sexual advances are the least she has to fear! Sometimes it is the women who are the biggest monsters. Take your beatings, do your duty even though it will never be good enough, even though the woman of the house will take her heartbreak out on you.

Through her suffering, Adunni also uncovers the horrible stories of the girls who have walked this exact path before her. Despite the violence, Adunni remains steadfast that she must do everything in her power to find her louding voice. This requires outwitting those who have all the power, and pushing herself despite her exhaustion, fear, and the constant reminder that she is nothing and never will be. She mustn’t believe what the others tell her, that it’s best to accept her station in life and stop her flights of fancy, imaging she could ever be more than a workhorse for others. She must remember her mothers dream for her, and use her words as a guiding light in these darkest of times.

This novel is painful because it sheds light on what is happening in other countries. Girls are trafficked and forced into modern day slavery, a female child a commodity when one can’t afford to feed their other children, especially the male children. Daughters are sold to afford a better life for everyone else, and this is modern times! We take for granted the luxury of an education at it’s most elementary level. We fear having the opportunity to send our children to college, imagine not having the money for basic schooling. In this novel, Morufu’s hunger for an heir exposes how women are always the ‘curse’, the ‘failure’. His first wife’s animosity is a matter of her being ‘not right in the head’, to Morufu’s way of thinking, yet what drove her to rage, madness? Imagine the demands, the crushing weight of the pain all three wives endure, all because of old beliefs. A devil inside of him, indeed.

There is hope for Adunni through a sisterhood bond but other girls aren’t so lucky. It’s eye opening. It is a relief to know the freedoms of the Western World and yet trafficking of human beings happens here too so I am not getting on some high horse. Village life in Nigeria for Adunni is certainly not like our modern ways and superstitions still run rampant. Sacrificing goats in the hopes of birthing a son, killed for loving someone who was forced to marry another, marrying girls to old men so they can use their burgeoning fertility and have sons… it can feel like the dark ages, yet it is reality for many. Disposable girls, buried futures… but Adunni may just find her voice!

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Penguin Group

Dutton

 

 

 

Shuggie Bain: A Novel by Douglas Stuart

47364233

He felt something was wrong. Something inside him felt put together incorrectly. It was like they could all see it, but he was the only one who could not say what it was. It was just different, and so it was just wrong. 

Drinking and Drugs as escape during a time when people are out of work and downtrodden happens in any country. In this moving novel, Shuggie Bain comes of age during the 1980’s in Glasgow, Scotland. “Thatcher’s policies have put husbands and sons out of work”, which is bad enough but with a taxi driver father loose with infidelities and a mother sick of living a crammed existence at her parents, who gets angry ‘with littered promises of better things’ , the future doesn’t look good for their children (Catherine, Leek and Shuggie). Agnes Bain enjoys the taste of drink as much as she loves attention from men, envy from women. She wants a better life, even if it means beautifying herself while women in the same circumstances as her laugh at her, or feel insanely terrified she’ll steal their men. She had fun once, before life meant struggle, poverty. The past was full of carefree dancing but those times are over.

Born with bad teeth, she was so sure dentures would glam her smile like the movie stars in Hollywood. She is beautiful but doomed by her drinking, and her constant hunger for more.  Shug senior is nothing but a selfish animal, but something about him made her hunger for him so much she left her first marriage for him, despite him being a Protestant and she, a Catholic. A steady husband didn’t give her the thrill a woman of her beauty deserved! Ending up back at her parents is not the life she had in mind, there is nothing dazzling about a handsome husband rutting with the women he drives on the job. When he promises a fresh start, instead they land in the ‘plainest, unhappiest looking homes’. The neighbor women don’t like her nor her fancy airs. Worse, Shug senior has made other plans for himself, and off he goes, blaming it on her weakness for drink, her refusal to give it up for love of him. Her vices cost her children more than just their image within the community, there is no money to stretch, nothing to eat. She isn’t adverse to pawning even her son Leek’s work tools!

As Agnes unravels, her children feel the worst of it but none more than her youngest, Shuggie. Without proper care and supervision his belly often goes empty, his ‘otherness’ making him a target for the other kids torture before he even knows what he is. In fact, adults even understand his sexuality better than him, in one horrifying moment he loses innocence, looking for his mother. His brother and sister both have different plans to escape this hellish life. Shuggie remains steadfast in his devotion to his mother, despite her humiliations and the added abuse he gets from adults and children alike for her actions. All manner of degradation enters his life too, and poverty isn’t just an aside in this story. It is ever present and suffocating. The story begins with Shuggie in a tenement, doing all he can just to survive, to feed and house himself despite his youth. Still striving, despite life never having given him one solitary gift, blessing. Maybe this strength is one inheritance he got from his mother Agnes, who even at her lowest went on with her head held high, kept going despite all the blows she received. You should hate her, you really should, but instead you just feel immense pity.

How does a child hold his own, with a mother who is always embarrassing herself and a father who is absent, uncaring, off making other families? Not every child can cling to the sinking ship, oldest sister Catherine has her own secret life with one Donald Jnr ‘away from their disintegrating mother’. But Leek was the one who wants to disappear the most! Leek, too, has too much to bear with his real father, who also ‘disappeared’ in his own way, or was pushed away. Whose to say? Leek is too young too feel so tired, so old trying to learn at the YTS site with the hopes of making a living, when in truth it is his art that is the only thing that can make him drop his shoulders in relaxation. So tired of his drunk mother and her poor decisions. Feeling abandoned too by his sister Catherine, in her new life abroad, he has nothing, no one. He can’t stay back and care for his sloppy mother nor his little brother, he too is striving for a different life. Living with Agnes is like doing time.

It is Shuggie who is her constant companion, and as the years rush on, each time he has faith she will quit drinking she fails, the dream collapses and not even fresh love can save her. Don’t expect salvation nor happy endings, this is based in the real world, not fantasy. Struggle makes you stronger, but you don’t magically get liberated from poverty with wishes and prayers. Shuggie is a survivor, and nothing in his life is easy but he just might make a friend along the way.

A heart-wrenching read that makes your problems seem flimsy. It’s not a glimpse at poverty and addiction, it is an extended stay and beautifully written despite the miseries visited upon the characters.

Publication Date: February 21, 2020

Grove Atlantic