The Pursuit: A Novel of Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates

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Here is the mistake: to have given into happiness. She will be punished now.

Abby had hoped that becoming Mrs. Willem Zengler could save her, the damned, the cursed. Is it possible to cup happiness in both hands and drink from it? When she closes her eyes to sleep, it is always there, the bones, the horror. Love can’t chase that away, nor could protection. It always finds her, and the past won’t let her go. As a new bride she steps into traffic, maybe she was sleepwalking? She seemed so agitated! Witnesses saw something wasn’t right, her face one of horror, fear but of what? As if she were being chased.

Her husband Willem doesn’t understand, he must remain at her bedside in the ICU. What will he say if she wakes up? What if she strode into traffic by choice? What does any of this mean? He is gut sick, worse, he keeps playing back their meeting in his mind. The possibility that she has lied about her life disturbs him. This disorientation, it’s happened before, hasn’t it? He remembers too the restlessness, the whimpering cries while she was asleep, dreaming. He vowed to protect her, that is his role as her husband, but now as she lies comatose, the proof is he has failed her.

What of that parent-less past doesn’t he know? She doesn’t want to tell, she doesn’t want him to pursue her fears, her dream, her terror. She is both the victim and the perpetrator, in her memory. She carries an entourage of skeletons, she was so young, but it’s her fault, isn’t it? In order to be free, she must stop running from the nightmare. It is a ruined house, her entire childhood, a ruined house. She doesn’t want to be that orphan again with a tragic past, a past that is rotting somewhere, still undiscovered either in her mind or the tall grass, or both. What would Willem think?

She has been trying to keep herself together, to be the right sort of woman, but her happiness as a newlywed is blurring, the poison of her past is bleeding through and there isn’t an escape, not even in a handsome, tall husband. There is no shelter, no escape from the pursuit.

She is not who she professes to be, she is not fully present, and she can’t fake it anymore. Life always circles back, the past comes back for you, how like a ring.

This is a fairly short novel considering the many books I have devoted my days to reading by Oates. She has an intuition about the things we don’t talk about or present to the world, and writes about them like no other, so I am always delighted to read anything she puts to paper. This is a fast read, and you are in the confusion, the terror of Abby’s mind before the “accident” and tormented by the ghosts of her past as if you are in her shoes. It’s very much about the effects of trauma. How unfair, the things we’re forced to carry behind us, like a rotting corpse. Some childhoods aren’t about frolicking in the fields chasing butterflies, at least not in Oates world. Here children are left with blood on their hands.

Publication Date: October 11, 2019

Grove Atlantic

Mysterious Press

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10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World: A Novel by Elif Shafak

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The possibility of an immediate and wholesale decimation of civilization was not as frightening as the simple realization that our individual passing had no impact on the order of things, and life would go on just the same with or without us. Now that, she had always thought, was terrifying.

We begin at the end for Tequila Leila, ‘as she was known to her friends and her clients.’ Working, before her sorry death, at one of the oldest licensed brothels in Istanbul she is no longer in her apartment, now she lays dead, vanishing further away from the here and now, ‘inside a metal rubbish bin with rusty handles and flaking paint.’ How did she end up discarded like trash, less than trash? Her group of misfits and best friends  Sinan, Nalan , Zaynab , Humeyra  and Jameelah don’t know yet what has happened, they intend to find out. Her friends, nothing more than garbage themselves according to the country and times they live in, the sole family she has left-at least that will acknowledge her, are the ones left behind to care about what has happened to her, just another dead prostitute to the citizens, but so much more to them. They don’t have rights, they must find a way (of course it’s a crime) to give her a proper burial, they may be her true family, but not legally.

How did you get here Leila? The mind sticks around and soon there is an influx of memories, the earliest is her birth and through that ‘slippery passage’ the transgression that followed against her own mother is recalled. In fact, though this novel is about outcasts, and many will focus most on the transvestite Nostalgia Nalan and Zaynab the dwarf, whose stories are very engaging, it is Leila’s mother, aunt and uncle’s sordid tale that clutched at me. It is here that everything went awry, where the hope for a different sort of life, one free of ‘shame’ was made impossible. Here lies the wreckage, and how my heart broke for Lelia’s mother, all the lies that darkened the family. We learn who truly bears the mark of shame, and it isn’t in Lelia’s decomposing body.

Her first mistake was being born a girl to her father’s second wife, and what are women if not vessels to deliver cherished sons? And if they cannot, well the elders assured Leila’s father that the Qur’an allows a man to have up to four wives. What good are wives who have only miscarriages? God help you, woman, if you are a flawed. This time Binnaz (second wife) took care to heed old wives tales and superstitions, leaving nothing to chance. Yet it is the shock of how she is rewarded for her efforts that has lasting effects on Lelia, who has two mothers. What rights does a second wife have? None. She must be an obedient wife, who is she to complain? No one, nothing, just a mere woman. All Leila’s father Houran wants is for his baby girl (though he desires a perfect son) to one day make him proud, “true to your religion, true to your nation, true to your father.”  But how do you measure loyalty, pride, obedience, and chastity when others are bent on fouling the waters? Just who truly is a shame to their religion, to Allah? Rather than an example of piety, she is a challenge to her father, a thing to be cast away and disowned and surely through no fault of her own.

As her heart ceases to beat she recalls only the lonely child she was. The severity of her father, the odd behavior of her deeply trouble, sad, mentally unstable aunt and the complex relationship her mother had with her. It was a house of whispers, the women controlled by her father’s beliefs, and the simmering anger a confusion to Lelia who is sheltered from the truth.  After a terrible abuse, Leila loses both her family and love….

The streets are mean, it is in the brothels where hustlers bring her to find refuge and here Leila loses all hope of ever being a proper Muslim woman. It is also in this life where she finds her true family, and so begins their heavy stories, no lighter nor happier than Leila’s. These are the people tourists don’t see, and the ones the citizens would rather ignore or use, the disposable women. What happens to Leila is brutal, meant to expose the violence against women, but if you go back, isn’t what happened to Leila’s powerless mother just as violent in it’s own godless way? There is hypocrisy particularly in religious fervor, in the existence of these sinful places that are denied, and her friends lives are heavy, take “Osman” Nalan’s transformation, it is hard to contemplate in a time, place against women. Imagine trying to survive in her shoes.

It’s not solely those born native to the soil who face being subjugated by men. Some arrive there through trickery, as Jameelah’s story has her forced into our modern form of slavery. If you’re not forced into marriage, another brand of slavery for some as Humeyra can attest to , then you’re trafficked like Jameelah. Too, women subjugate each other as much as they uplift. We see this in the hatred between Jameelah’s stepmother and the cruelty Suzan heaps upon Binnaz, because I can’t think of a crueler thing. So while the tight bond and love Leila and her friends have, even despite death, there is shame too between women within this tale.

This is a world where fathers seek spiritual masters, where women are defeated, and being an outcast can end in brutal murder. Where unless you have family, you are buried like a pauper, trash. It’s an interesting blend of family, abuse, mental illness, politics, religion, feminism, society, poverty, wealth -there is a hell of a lot happening here. It’s hard for those of us living in the Western World to comprehend being punished for crimes against us, living in fear of religion. I hate to say this too, but in how men are teased by their elders it certainly fuels the fire, that man feels a push to punish his women… Women still have a long way to go when it comes to feminism, but in other parts of the world, you die for your dissension towards those in power. The filth upon you, put there by rape, is your fault and can never be washed clean. It’s unconscionable. These are places you do not speak up, as you see when Leila tries, look how that ends.

Her friends stories are told, and in fleeting memories Leila speaks but I was far more interested in her as a child. I felt I lost her when she grew up, however her friends fill that hole. They make up the ‘immodest sinners’ of these ‘immoral times’. Still, what they are forced to do is a freedom from where they escaped, lives among the ruins. Elif Shafak gives voice to those never heard, after-all, they don’t exist right?

Publication Date: September 24, 2019

Bloomsbury USA

The Art of Regret: A Novel by Mary Fleming

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This meant that all the thoughts, all the feelings, all the half-remembered things stayed trapped in my brain. Like birds in an overcrowded cage, they flapped wing against wing with nowhere to go.

Trevor is an American, the United States his true home and this is the one permanent, solid fact of his childhood. Possibly the only fact he remembers correctly. It is in America that his family structure crumbles after incredible loss and from that moment on changes the meaning of home, both physically and emotionally. Silence serves to disrupt the natural process of grief, and France becomes his family’s destination all because mother had once ‘spent a fun year in Paris’. So much of his youth is buried, things never discussed, questions never posed, everything figured out on his own when he is just a boy which sadly Trevor builds his memory upon. As soon as he is all grown up, he will return to America! That is the driving force of his youth and everyone knows it. And yet…

We find him in his thirties, running a Parisian bicycle shop that he ‘inherited’ from the prior owner. Nothing about the old shop has changed, much like the rest of his life, here too Trevor is  ‘just passing through’ and has no plan to alter anything, leaving the shop much as it was when the previous owner Nigel was alive. It isn’t really his, that seems to be the one thought that pervades his life, the feeling that nothing belongs to him- not country, family, lovers nor business. The bike shop is barely surviving until he has a turn of luck when transit workers go on strike, paralyzing the train and subway system fighting for social security reform. Suddenly, his bike sales are kicking up, eviction lo longer looming but it was never his dream. Just another thing that ‘fell into his lap’, not much of a choice. He is the black sheep of his family, and when love presents itself, it’s going to be yet another threat to the shaky relationships he maintains with his brother and mother. Trevor finally feels something worth holding tight to, sordid or not, this attraction is impossible to deny and why should he? He feels electric with it!

His relationship with his brother Edward is one of punishment, rejection and regret. Wildly opposite of each other, both chose to process the tragedy of their childhood in different ways, one that distanced them as siblings and challenged loyalty (at least to Trevor’s mind). But how much of what we believe and build our morality upon is ever factual? How much do we destroy on our ‘self-righteous path’, forcing us to stop seeing our own blood as people with feelings too, doing their best to have a life? The danger in keeping the past locked up tight is how much love we push away, and all the mistaken beliefs that are given life. Trevor has always felt that his mother too is suspect, the careless whims leading them all to Paris, forcing her children into a brand new life in a foreign country, making a ghost of the family they once were, not realizing how much it will haunt Trevor into adulthood. Maybe the very things that drives him from his family began with her or at least his invention of who she is, rather than knowing the truth. It may not just be all ‘appearances’ his mother cares about, like any of us, she too has her reasons.

We often decide on our own facts within the family, and carry that into relationships we build or deny. There in lies the germ, how we invent everyone, rather than seeing them as they are and as we see with Trevor, we do it with ourselves as well. He spends so much time holed up in his own world, not wanting to let anyone in, especially his family.

What happens after the fall may be the making of Trevor, finally. Can family ever mend, from the biggest betrayals? Trevor has a lot to learn, his myopic view of everyone in his life alienates him, of his own accord. Tragedy slips in again and I felt choked up, which doesn’t happen often in fiction for me. I sometimes wanted to punch Trevor as much as his brother does. It all began with his mother and ends with her too, and all I can think about is how much we destroy our families when we stubbornly decide things, based on weak assumptions. How often it is our own lack of effort at fault, we ourselves who cause so much damage to our happiness, and that of others.

For a brief time the reader lives like a true Parisian, and it’s lovely but for me it truly is a novel about the art of regret, the ways we shock ourselves with our choices, behavior. If Trevor is lucky he will make amends before it’s too late. If he could just stop seeing himself as a victim that the whole world, or more his family, is against. I read it with a heavy heart, but the city of Paris was a balm.

Publication date: October 22, 2019

She Writes Press

 

Mona in Three Acts: A Novel by Griet Op de Beeck

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Lying is a national sport in our family. We learned it when we were little and it’s gotten into our bodies like blood and water for other people.

Mona in three acts is an emotional journey, maybe too downhearted and crawling for some readers but it clicked with me. This is a novel about the way we are shaped by our families, not often for the best. Three Acts, part one and it is 1976 when Mona says, “They say your eyes get used to the dark”, from a tiny room in the corner of the basement. She’s in trouble again with her mother, she is not the good kid, that’s her brother Alexander’s role. The punishment feels excessive to the reader, as Mona sits in that dark space fearful of mommy’s wrath. Mona seems to be nothing but a disappointment simply for existing, a hard woman obviously as Mona is only 9, stricter with Mona “because I needed it” and then she exits the family in a tragic instant. She’ll never be able to prove to her mother she is a good girl. Her maternal Grandmother knows what the children need to recover and that is order, routine so steps in to take care of them all until… daddy gets sick of her meddling and judging.

Mona’s father wants them to meet a very special visitor even though only months have passed since their Mommy’s death, a woman named Marie who is fated to become their new mommy. Things aren’t going to get any easier. Some children get to be children and some, like Mona, have to fuss over the grown ups. Stuck in the middle with her maternal grandmother’s disgust for her father’s speedy new marriage and not wanting to invoke her father’s displeasure, she stuffs down her own feelings. Marie is emotionally demanding, quick to tears, feeling the family isn’t grateful for all the effort she puts forth as their new mother. It is here that Mona learns to fake happiness, to put her best face forward and make sure that Marie is, at all costs, appreciated. Weight is piled on her shoulders and with her father’s distant nature, this marriage and Marie’s pregnancy is more Mona’s cross to bear, already involved in nurturing her brother Alexander she is caring for the newest addition, because Marie needs rest. It’s all just too much for Marie, right? Everything has always felt like Mona’s fault, more so now. If someone is unhappy, storms off, feels sad, it’s because of her. The weight of the world.

Mona’s twenties find her feeling ‘defined by the things she is not’, though there is hope working in theater.  She becomes a ‘dramaturge’ for one of the most important theater directors. It’s a world away from her family, but somehow they still seep into her life. She accepts love in f half-measures, it’s what she learned growing up around first, her mother Agnes, her disapproving Grandma after the accident and lastly her replacement mommy Marie and her disinterested father. As for her lover Lois, why not stay with him? If his touch doesn’t set her on fire, well it’s okay. If he is self-centered, not fully in the relationship, well he must have his reasons, it’s still love. He is a writer, it demands all of his focus, attention, surely she has to understand that? Life has never cared much for the state of her well being, not even her own important work is enough to give her the confidence to define herself as something more than what her family or lover has decided she is. She has been surrounded by difficult characters, whose only constant is their theatrics, which may well have prepared her for her job. So much of her life has been packed away, much like her own mother Agnes whom really is more a faded memory, never to be spoken of as not to upset Marie. Her father has been, though, almost as absent as the dead. I know it comes off as a lot of whingeing, and many readers will think ‘hell, pick yourself up and make the life you want’, and some people are strong enough, confident enough to do it and say ‘the hell with the lot of you.’ But during the formative years, some people shrink deeper into themselves and start believing the version their family has decided they are meant to be. They learn to be pleasing, to convince themselves that any scrap is enough. They want more for others forgetting themselves in the process and you see this in how she cares for her brother Alexander and half sister Anne Marie. It’s strange how in many families, there is often one person (more if you’re unlucky) like Marie, who can strike fear into everyone, why do we succumb to such abuse, long after we have the freedom to walk away? Physical abuse is easier to recognize, it’s those that distort our versions of ourselves that are hardest to expose, especially when everyone else is so good at playing along, ‘keeping the peace’. I absolutely understand such people with their ‘toxic unhappiness’, how like a disease, a disaster.

Part three takes us to the heart of Mona’s relationship with her father. It is relief to understand the why of things, but it changes nothing of what children suffer through. For the reader as much as Mona her father has been absent, a non-entity whom only seems to hide and let others deal with the difficult situations. Mona has to learn sometime to toughen up, to demand what she deserves, because if you just keep lying down and taking it, people will never stop walking all over you. It may come late, but she may just learn to stand up and stop excusing the selfishness of others and walk on until she finds something better.  This isn’t a happy novel, Mona’s life has been a misery that she hasn’t understood how to climb out of, but there is hope for us all. If you ever wanted to understand what goes on inside the mind of a pleaser, you are privy to it from childhood on. Mona’s voice as a child was genuine, I felt so sorry for her. It’s a fiction that childhood is the happiest time in the lives of all, there are so many Monas out there, it makes you sick to think of it. I wonder, had her mother lived, though difficult she was, would Mona have rebelled eventually? Become someone else entirely? Just a thought.

Publication Date: November 12, 2019

AmazonCrossing

 

 

 

 

 

Dark Mother Earth: A Novel by Kristian Novak (Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać)

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When one person took their life, the disease was theirs alone. When four people took their lives, the whole village was afflicted.

Successful Croatian author Matija’s creativity, born out of a disconnect from the torment of his past, seems to have abandoned him. His third book is a failure, nothing is going right since Dina walked out of his life. A pit is opening inside of him, abandoning himself to the abyss he must confront the past he has buried in the dark mother earth of  the Croatian village of his childhood. Fear has been at the heart of his creations, his make believe life the safety net that has maintained his sanity, kept the demons of the past from pulling him back to the trauma he has repressed. He doesn’t even truly know what he has buried. Dina wants his memories, whether they expose his fragility or not, this is the meat of any solid relationship. How can love be real if you don’t share your childhood, the glory days and the goofy awkward stages? What if all you have is horror? How do you share memories you don’t even have? Some things are better left repressed. Some memories are wild animals, animals he left behind before he and his family moved away to Zagreb. But memories have a keen sense of smell and can track you down, no matter how many years pass in between.

Reaching back, further back it all began with the passing of Matija’s father when he was only six or maybe the rot seeped in because of the legend his grandmother told him. Something about the soil of that burial ground disturbs him, some sort of ‘staged’ feeling about his father’s funeral births mistrust of the villagers. This child’s disbelief in the face of loss, death is the seed that germinates into abandonment of reality. Grief gets tangled into stories about the will-o-the-wisp folk, and what is real for a child? What about the world is solid when you are still trying to wrap your mind around all the big and small  nagging questions of the world? What happens when the village starts watching you because they think you are different, a ‘troubled’ child? What happens when you start to see things, know things maybe even become the catalyst for tragedies, and realize that they could be right about you? What’s a boy to do when the brutal dark ‘things’ visit him, as if summoned by his need?

This novel is a strange type of horror story whose engine is revved all because of Matija’s love for Dina. Everything rises to the surface, you must face the dark earth of your origins in order to have a chance at love. The past always comes back for us. For Matija  the things left unexplained have soured his thoughts, a curious, intelligent, creative little boy left to makes sense of the wounds of losing his father. He never really recovered from that first loss, and everything that followed; the suicides, the terrible things people hide from each other in any village or town haunts him so much that any fabrication is better than facing everything he knew. He doesn’t understand his father’s death and his mom and sister are so swamped in grief they don’t know how damaging keeping him in the dark will become. His strange drawings don’t help, he feeds the villagers fear of him, he can’t seem to help it. He is fated to be an outcast, every village needs one, it makes it so much easier to avoid the real horror, within ourselves and each other. Collectively, these people are suspicious and distrusting of anything different, they can overlook the ugliness in those nearest and dearest so long as the person seems admirable, clean..etc. The horror is in that.  War is looming, at least that is something solid to fear and maybe they can turn their hate there.

There is an eeriness in what Matija starts seeing, and the overwhelming horror of fantasy that becomes a threat for others near him, which at the heart really comes from a place of love and grief to have his dad come back from the dead. The scariest moment is in his fervent, childish hope by the water with his friend. His mother just wants him to act like a normal boy, because behaving like his ‘natural’ self carries the threat of being taken away. He learns early on how to betray himself, and in turn, how to betray others in order to ‘fit in’. It’s hard to blame his actions, who doesn’t want to feel accepted somewhere, especially when you’re young and have been on the outside for so long? Sadly, it’s one of the biggest mistakes of his life, some things can’t be fixed. Is he the disease in the midst? Is he really to blame as people begin to take their own lives?

“Things you’ve forgotten bide their time. They keep an eye on you, poke each other in the ribs, and snicker softly so as not to disturb the sanctity of the delusion. They only start getting louder when you begin to stagnate, when there’s no forward movement and that’s when they go after you, seething because you’ve forbidden them from coexisting with all the new things you neatly pack into the storage unit known as your life.” 

We are the horror. It’s a solid novel, it put me in a strange place. We forget how fear can consume young minds and how destructive fantasy can be. What a sad tale.

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Amazon Crossing

Searching for Sylvie Lee: A Novel by Jean Kwok

 

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Often there’s a dichotomy between the beautiful sister and the smart one, but in our family, both of those qualities belong to my sister. 

The sadness of this novel is like ants under the skin. There are choices we make because of this enormous love we have for our children that end up tearing apart their universe. It was only meant to be a year, as Ma and Pa tried to make a place for themselves in the Beautiful Country. But New York is so much harder than they realized it would be, with their meager savings soon exhausted, and no hope for work anytime soon, it is with a heavy, shameful heart that Ma decides she will do right by Sylvie and accept the offer from her cousin Helena. With Grandma living with her cousin in Holland, caring for Helena’s young son therefore, unable to come to America and help with her baby girl, Helena has ‘kindly’ offered a place for Sylvie to live. Her mother writes her, “if you were to entrust your most precious fruit to me, perhaps it might alleviate your burden.”  After much internal struggle, and the reality of their hardships in America as immigrants who cannot even speak the language, it is decided- but it is a devastating decision.

A child in between places her entire life, at the age of nine Sylvie finally returns to live with her biological family. Unlike Amy, born after the difficult years and her parents assimilation into American culture, Sylvie feels like the cast off, a stranger. Torn from the only home she has ever known, feeling more that they wanted her back only so she can babysit her little sister (the longed for cherished daughter), she feels as unwelcome here. Thrust into yet another world where she doesn’t fit, painted as ‘other than’ for her accent alone, suffering the humiliation of a corrective eye patch that only adds more fuel to her awkwardness, hurt by the racist barbs from her peers, her mind still embedded in all things Dutch, she is the one who never truly assimilates into one culture nor one home. In both houses, in both countries she longs for the things she has been forced to abandon. All a child feels is rejection, for a child’s heart doesn’t understand the reason of the adult world, a hungry belly is nothing compared to the hunger for a mother/father’s embrace. A grown woman now, Princeton and MIT educated, a management consultant, more than surpassing her parents humble world, “how did a brilliant creature like Sylvie arise from such mundane stock as our ma and pa?” she is called back to what she feels  is her true mother’s deathbed, her grandmother. It is here where she mysteriously disappears.

It is Amy’s turn to be the brave sister, “Amy, so much like Ma, had eaten from frightened hare meat”, who Sylvie said needed to broaden her horizons.  Despite her fear, she travels to the Netherlands, her sister needs her! As Amy tells the story from her perspective, we see a different side of the mother that Sylvie feels never wanted her. Helena and Willem aren’t as warm and welcoming as she expected, cousin Lukas exudes a mixture of anger and sorrow, there are implications, accusations about Sylvie from the moment Amy lands. This isn’t the life she had imagined for her big sister, how could ma and pa have given her away, sent her to this cold “Grimm’s fairy-tale world?” She doesn’t really know her sister, Sylvie has never opened up about the heart of her childhood here, with this other family, “The enormity of the existence my Sylvie had before me yawns at my feet like an abyss.”  She must dissect Sylvie’s life, and every single person who has their part in it. Sylvie’s secretly unhappy, inner life is spilling open, even her enviable marriage to Jim was collapsing, her return to Holland a chance to ‘leave everything behind’ only forges her deeper into old family dynamics, roles her calculated Aunt Helena created. Her old wounds throb, the past revealed to the reader, no matter how much she has made of herself, she still feels like nothing. Entrusted to her aunt and grandmother, no one ever gave a thought that maybe the ‘better life’ robbed her of every happiness. Never understanding just what it is about her that rubs Helene the wrong way, wondering what has soured her aunt’s heart so much that the niece she has been entrusted to raise she treats more like a burden, beneath her contempt. This callousness burdens Sylvie with the insurmountable task of trying to prove her worth, long after she has been gone. But surely too there were brief moments of kindness? What of the distance within’ her real family? Do her ma and pa ever get her fully back? She wonders if they ever loved her at all.

This novel is incredibly heavy, of course it’s about the sister’s relationship but as we delve deeper into ma’s pain a raw side of the immigrant experience is exposed, even in the “curtain” between mother and daughters. Sylvie surpasses every expectation and in doing so the divide grows wider and wider between she and ma. Such strength and independence in a child makes ma fearful,  the inability to be a mother in a way other american women can, language an insurmountable obstacle, there is comfort in shrinking oneself but it’s a temporary one when the true cost is affection, bonding. Sylvie is gone again, but she never seemed to ever return to begin with, and it is an earth shattering reality that things would have been different, had they only kept her in the first place. Just what was her goal?

Amy doesn’t really know her sister, failed to understand how having another family entirely affected her, for better or for worse. Jim and Sylvie fought before she disappeared? Why would she run away? Helena accuses her of taking her family inheritance, but Sylvie wanted for nothing, why would she? Greed fills Helena’s heart more than concern for Sylvie who could be hurt somewhere, all alone, in need of rescue. Just how did she survive this cold woman who raised her? What does she know? What of Grandma’s ‘jewels’, who did she intend have them, if they even exist at all? Who is suspect? What is Amy missing? Maybe Sylvie isn’t the only one she didn’t really know at all.

The police don’t seem to give Amy hope, and Amy knows in her heart it’s time to ‘step up’ and be the sister Sylvie has always needed. She must shuck of her inborn cowardice. “Sylvie, where are you?” She must discover the who Sylvie is first. Every revelation gives rise to more questions. Anyone could have been involved, no one is as they seem, certainly not Sylvie’s husband Jim who has his own deep secrets and is unraveling, nor even Sylvie herself. How could so many terrible things have been happening in her big sister’s life, kept so neatly contained, that Amy didn’t see the fissures? How could two sister envy each other’s lives without understanding the pain humming beneath the surface? How did Amy miss so much of her family’s history, the bitterness?  She is navigating Sylvie’s Netherlands, hoping to feel her big sister return to her in this way, trying to uncover what chased her away. She may discover a heart that was more vulnerable than Sylvie ever let on, a woman far more fragile than her bravado implied. Love can sneak in even when hate wants to assert dominance, all of our intentions can destroy the very family we seek to protect. What about ma and pa? Surely the blame must be smeared all over them too, for ever sending Sylvie away. She must discover the one thing that has led to her sister’s mysterious vanishing, if she ever hopes to find her. But she may discover a darker family history, exposing long buried shame… will there be any love left for forgiveness.

Published June 2019  Somehow I kept putting off this review to meet with the release date, and am kicking myself for not posting it!

William Marrow

Harper Collins

 

 

 

 

 

The Reckless Oath We Made: A Novel by Bryn Greenwood

 

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Let those who suffer an illness of the mind do so and prosper of it, but I do not and I will not.

If you told Zhorzha “Zee” that a knight was her destiny, she would smack you silly. Zee isn’t a delicate princess, and no one has ever saved her from anything. Her life has been a lesson in catastrophe, first in early childhood dealing with a criminal father and a mother devoted to him, now as a grown adult she is keeping her family afloat. Sharing an apartment with her sister LaReigne whose little boy Marcus depends on her, she spends her days hustling in any way she can to get money, for bills, for the roof over their head, for food. Her hip injury from an accident on her exes Harley is the least of her pains, nothing causes her more grief than discovering her sister has been taken hostage during a prison break where she volunteers.

Who knew her ‘stalker’ as she calls him isn’t a stalker at all, but a knight in shining armor. “I am her champion. I watch that I might her serve.” So okay, Gentry won’t look her in the eye, walking around speaking like a traveler from medieval times, but there is something chivalrous about him. Gentry brings both she and Marcus to his home, their only refuge, considering her mother doesn’t have an inch of space safe enough for them to stand let alone sleep. She occupies more than her share of space, along with all her junk. Mountains of it, hoarded like precious treasures! Her family is chaos personified. She surrenders to Gentry, why not? Her options have run out. Once surrounded by the kindness of his parents, she begins to see Gentry as more than just some weirdo, stalker and slowly begins to fall under the spell of his charm.

Her sister LeReigne’s abduction escalates into violence, and Zee isn’t going to wait on the cops to do anything, especially when they suspect her sister of aiding in the prison break considering their family’s criminal history, so it is on her shoulders (isn’t it always) to bring her nephew’s mommy home safe! Gentry will serve his Lady, more loyal than blood, even if it means breaking laws, maybe even risking his own life. The voices in his head have foretold of his mission, his life’s purpose, to serve this damsel in distress. Zee isn’t the most admirable, nor likable woman in any book but life has burdened her, made her sour, bitter, suspicious and cynical.  Some would say rightly so. One visit with her infuriating mother is enough to understand the bite that comes natural to Zee. This isn’t your typical warm family, they have more than a smattering of mental issues and poor judgement when it comes to their love life, controlling their impulses. They demand a lot of her, but don’t give much in return, certainly not a lot of affection. She is the sort of woman who rubs those who have mastered appearances the wrong way, because she makes you confront your own hypocrisy, imperfections. She doesn’t pretend her family or she herself is anything other than a wreck, she doesn’t make excuses for her ‘hustling’, no. She is more the ‘take me as I am or to hell with you’ sort of gal. It is a strange pair Gentry and Zee make, but there are similarities once she meets his biological mother. Not so different at all.

Love blossoms in the strangest of ways, and maybe we aren’t always worthy of the devotion Gentry shows Zee, who is to say? Maybe someone who hasn’t known tenderness has a hard time opening themselves to it?  I was frustrated by what many would call a quirk, Gentry’s medieval knights and castle obsession, his Middle English speech that feels like a riddle half the time, but then it became a natural part of his character that I couldn’t imagine him without it. Bryn Greenwood knows how to create relationships that make us scratch our heads, because in the real world, that’s often how love works. It doesn’t always make sense to outsiders why two people band together. There is a lot of blind devotion from the heart in this novel, and I am not just talking about Gentry. In fact, he may be the only character with logic on his side, no matter what psychiatrists think! “Let those who suffer an illness of the mind do so and prosper of it, but I do not and I will not.” Bless his heart!

This is a story about the madness of family loyalty and love. Yes, read it.

Publication Date: August 20, 2019

Penguin Group

Putnum