The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish: A Novel by Katya Apekina

40663721

Yes, mom dragged me with her to every terrible place.I needed to get as far from her as I could. She was consuming me. That day she tried to hang herself from the rafter in the kitchen, I’d been lying on the bedroom floor. My mind was a radio tuned to her station and her misery paralyzed me.

In this gorgeous debut, sisters 16-year-old Edie and 14-year-old Mae’s lives are upended when their mother Marianne is admitted to St. Vincent’s (mental hospital) to ‘rest’ after an attempted suicide. The girls are forced to live with their estranged father Dennis (a literary success) in New York, a man who thinks he can just pick up in the middle of the story and become beloved ‘daddy’. Edie wants to go back to their old life in Louisiana, to her boyfriend, her school committees, her mother. It’s no surprise she was the one who found her mother hanging that day as she has been the one taking care of Marianne for years, through her stony silences and strange episodes. Edie doesn’t trust Dennis, feels it’s a betrayal to even be living with him when their mother needs them so badly. Mae felt swallowed up by Marianne, fearful she is too much like her damaged mother. Mae doesn’t have romantized thoughts about her mother’s illness, it has always scared her. Now that she is free of her, able to finally be herself, she doesn’t want her mother back. With Dennis’ eyes watching their every move, which irritates Edie feeling like they are just ‘new material’, Mae feels being the center of his world is intoxicating. Edie is loyal to Marianne, Mae has shifted alliances to Dennis’ side. So begins the unraveling of the sister’s bond.

It’s meant to be temporary, but time stretches and Marianne isn’t getting better, Mae is under Dennis spell but Edie won’t let herself fall, despite her desire for the comfort it would bring. It’s too late for her, where was he all this time anyway? Busy with his women, not one thought for his ‘beautiful, beautiful girls’ who now have his rapt attention. Are they just a story brewing for him, serving as inspiration as their once  beautiful, fragile mother was in her youth? There is a story there, Marianne as muse, was she the abuser, or the abused?

The reader is witness to the blossoming of forbidden love between Dennis and Marianne, the civil rights movement, and dangerous obsession. With insight from Rose, Dennis’ sister, we are forced to wonder who is to blame for the fractured family. Fatherly love takes a dangerous turn as Mae never wants to go back to that life with her mother, never again wants to be suffocated by her mother’s madness. Yet the further she tries to step away from Marianne, into a new self, the more she becomes her.

Edith is too angry, too perceptive to put her faith in Dennis. In fact, she is downright disgusted with his writing, with his seduction of her young mother so long ago. There is  a line spoken by another character in the novel that expresses the emotional storms within, “It’s hard sometimes, ” she said, “to know where you end and others begin.” You can feel the ground shaking before it opens, know you are being led somewhere you hoped they would never go. Much like the photographs Mae takes, it’s an eerie exposure of the wildly different beliefs we have about our shared experiences. Both sisters are in denial about their mother and father. If Mae hitches her wagon to her father with fat dreams and madness, Edie holds just as much false optimism for her mother’s recovery. Like a needy kitten, love gets twisted for Mae and there is a point of no return. Edie runs to destruction as much as Mae does, they just take different paths to reach the end. There is no mistake that Marianne has been a destructive influence on Mae, who looks so much like her but Dennis… Dennis is a catalyst.

To say more, would ruin the novel. I loved it, Apekina writes beautifully about a very ugly subject.The title alone, isn’t it the best, had me itching to read it. I can’t wait for her next novel, writing about family dysfunction isn’t easy, and taboo subjects if done poorly can repulse readers but it all added up here. I don’t think Marianne is alone in her wounded bird fragility, she got some help toward self-destruction in the form of Dennis and that’s all I have to say about that. Yes, read it! I still have the taste of ash in my mouth.

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

Two Dollar Radio

 

Advertisements

Ponti: A Novel by Sharlene Teo

38532173

The distance between where she was and the glossy point where she wanted to be stretched and stretched. 

In Ponti, Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa’s otherworldly beauty and small diminished fame. ” I marvel for a split second at the unfairness of genetics, mysterious spirlas of DNA coiling and cohering into life sentences: You will be plain. You will be beautiful. You will repulse mosquitoes. You will have an iron gut. You will be sickened by crabmeat.” Amisa’s career never took off with the promise her beauty once held. Having left her small village for bigger things, she works hard and falls in love with Wei Loong, they marry and she works full-time at the Paradise Theater until she is discovered by filmaker “visionary” Iskander Wiryanto. She has the perfect beauty, like a mask, exactly who he desires to play the Pontianak (folklore, a ghost of a woman who dies in childbirth and preys on men, in the form of pale beauty, long dark hair) in his films. We follow Amisa through the making of the film, witness to the ‘bloom of her ego’ even in the face of grief for her losses back home. Playing the Ponti takes it’s toll on her, the filmaker difficult, pushing her harder than she can stomach, not as enraptured by her sexually as all men are. Three films in, and her shining star dims, the movie becomes a cult classic, but of the times no one is interested in superstitions nor films about ghosts. The parts dry up, Wiryanto no longer needs his beautiful ghost and life with Wei Loong leads to just another part, of poor housewife. It isn’t long before she is pregnant with Szu, and feeling dreadfully close to her own mother and the life she trudged through. Amisa is more like a ponti now than a starlet. Wei Loong leaves before Szu turns 8, and then it is three, Szu, Amisa and Auntie Yunxi.

Aunt Yunxi and Amisa earn their living as fakes, mediums who ‘trade in hope’, milking the desperation of their clients. It’s necessary to con people for their survival, what with her tragic mother more a ghost of a woman, sleeping away her life. Szu is a misfit and completely friendless, until she befriends Circe. The two of them ‘citizens of nowhere’, feel unique, bonding over their discontent with the world. For Circe, the allure is Szu’s mother and mysterious aunt, even in their ugly home, there is a pull. Jump ahead to 2020, Circe’s team is going to be working on promotions for the new re-make of Ponti, hence “it feels like a can of Amisa-shaped worms has been opened.” The reader is dragged through time, guest to each character’s perspective. Szu, once seeming so bitter, strong, solid begins to fade, retreat into herself.  Something many female relationships wrestle with is the discomfort of familiarity, seeing too much of yourself in another. Sharlene Teo exposes this uncomfortable bond perfectly, there is a pull and push between Circe and Szu, a sort of marriage. They feel warm and cold toward each other, until Circe can’t stomach Szu, when Szu needs to be anchored most to the here and now! “She started wearing her hair in a bubble ponytail just like mine and mooched  about my house all day drinking gallons of diet coke and draping her sadness over my things.” It’s too much heavy sadness, Szu is dwindling, and she isn’t going down with her!  Circe wants to be young, fun, free and this friendship is suffocating, she needs to shake her off, shake off this stale depressive air. Circe of the present day isn’t sure she wants that Szu back in her life, and is surprised to hear of a Szu who turned out differently then she imagined.

Szu doesn’t really hate her mom, she hates that she wants her love and never gets it. That her mother was more a phantom through her entire childhood, never happy to play her part in her real life role. What is more melodramatic than a fallen star? Despising all the ordinary living that remains. How did Amisa, so beautiful, so alluring allow her promise to fizzle out? How could this woman, who as a young girl showed so much grit and courage by venturing into the city, the unknown to become something more, simply surrender? Auntie Yunxi is the bones of the household, maintaining the only structure in Szu’s life. But she is a mysteriously strange woman herself, and where is Szu’s father? Is she right in blaming her mother, for chasing him away being like a Ponti, a threat to his happiness? When he makes an appearance again, after life turns tragic, he has some truths to unveil.

This novel is disquieting, because the real ghost here is grief, blindness, and starry eyes. It’s about the whims of fate, beauty isn’t always a promise of anything solid either, you can’t bank solely on dreams nor a face. It’s giving up and closing your eyes to what you have, haunting your own future and destroying those nearest you in the process. It’s a child trapped by her mother’s shadow, who sees nothing but disappointment reflected back at her, a girl who hungers for the love she will be denied even from the grave. It’s clinging to another person for dear life, because they are a sort of stand in for the mother/daughter bond. Circe and Szu represent that awkward hunger girls have for connection, and how easily it can turn monstrous and all you want is your freedom. The Ponti in this story isn’t so much about the folkloric ghost, the more terrifying creature is Amisa, and what she allows her disappointments to do to her future.  She was so sure her beauty signled her out for more, made her special and she simply retreated from life when it knocked her back to earth. Szu follows in her footsteps for a breath of time, devoured by her own form of grief, like a disease. I found this to be terribly sad, heavy to carry.

I admit I was disappointed by the ending. I felt the story was a gathering storm, waiting for a climactic moment (big things do happen throughout, in their own unassuming way, with death) but I was waiting to be a part of Circe and Szu’s reunion, which was more hinted at. It never culminates. The writing is gorgeous, it’s an emotional upheaval which is strange considering there is a great distance between all the characters. There is an air of detached coldness, but it seems more a defense, Szu isn’t as strong as she seems. Her anger is a wall. Maybe it’s true that grief  ‘makes ghosts of us’ and that is part of why Amisa is more a suggestion of a mother, having lost someone dear to her early on. I am mixed on the novel, this is a talented writer but again I kept waiting for the big ending. Despite the aforementioned issues, the novel itself is beautifully written.  Circe is haunted by the past friendship, and years later carries the burden of her reaction to Szu as she began falling apart. It’s a complicated look at friendship, unwanted motherhood, dead dreams  and the terrible ways we allow certain moments to define our lives, for better or worse.

Sharlene Teo is one to watch. I am wildly curious what her next novel will be about.

Released Today! September 4, 2018

Simon & Schuster

How We Remember by J.M. Monaco

 

cover145121-medium.png

Unlike Dave, in my younger years I grew up with a sense of my position in the world that was closely aligned with my mother’s. I accepted that I should never expect any sense of entitlement to anything.  I continued to live out the expectations required of the good girl who never fussed. I ate that soggy McDonald’s burger without complaining and said thank you very much for the privilege.

Now an academic living in North London, Jo returns home after her mother’s death, surprised that her mother saved enough money for an inheritance. Her mother who expected nothing from life, a mother who often disappointed her still had a few surprises it seems. Once her marriage was over, she took on the role of single motherhood, becoming a nurse. Jo’s childhood was mostly a lesson in spirit breaking, the same dreary life she escaped by beating the odds with her education, a mysterious turn of luck in the universe that led her to university in England earning her ‘fancy pants’ degree,  love with Jon, and a great career. It is a far cry from her childhood with a brother who took and took from her in between disappearing acts, now an adult and still just as lost, unstable and pulling at her with his needs. The early days when her parents were still together and tension was thick as the smoke from her mother’s cigarettes, the way she only felt the love and comfort of a real family when she was at her friend Beth’s, sharing their meals and easy affection. Then there was the big shame between Jo and her uncle as she became a teenager, a seduction in which she felt somewhat complicit, as girls often do, a hushed up incident buried in the bowels of her dysfunctional family, to keep peace between her mother and her aunt, despite the cost to Jo. Her parents own wildly chaotic, broken marriage isn’t something she wanted to mirror but Jo isn’t immune to relationship woes. Now, she has her mother’s diary and the incident feels fresh, her mother’s sorrow about the strain it caused with her family and proof that her mother knew exactly what her uncle was! That she believed Jo.

Jo is battling severe health issues far worse than her inability to conceive a child or carry it to term, and coming home is only opening old wounds on top of current troubles in her own marriage. There is a student, someone she fell for, and it’s all coming back to bite her. The trouble may cost her more than her job, if Jon finds out everything may come crashing down! Dave is adamant that the money from their mother should go to him, to help him in his latest scheme to make something of himself with a business! Jo already has everything (as if she hadn’t worked hard for it, saved) so why not give him a leg up for once? Why must he Dave always think he is entitled to things without working for them? There is a struggle, she has enough to fight against on her own than to deal with her brother’s outbursts, surely it’d be easier just to give him the money, despite her lack of faith it will do him a bit of good. Her father refuses to budge, knowing his ex-wife was adamant in how she wanted the money dispersed before dying of cancer. Her father is mentally declining, but the last thing she wants with her own illness is to be tied to caring for the man who never showed up for his kids, nor his ex-wife. Maybe she won’t have to, maybe her father has his own shocking surprise too.

This story does feel like a sad memoir about deeply flawed, lost people. No one gets fixed, there are no rainbows nor happy endings. Sometimes damaged people just continue their entire life falling apart and are too stubborn or helpless to change. Is the dysfunction so deeply rooted that there is no hope, or is it simply a case of turning over and playing dead, a constant victim of circumstances? It’s hard to say. Each character seems to have done terrible stuff that needs forgiving, Jo included when it comes to her own husband Jon. Maybe some people just have to be accepted as the mess they are.

Publication Date: September 13, 2018

RedDoor Publishing

 

Tell Me You’re Mine: A Novel by Elisabeth Norebäck

38650653.jpg

Her right ear looks like Daniel’s and Maria’s. Elf ears. It’s genetic. 

Stella Widstrand was on a family vacation in a secluded cabin by the sea so long ago, when her baby daughter disappeared, thought to have drowned. All that remains, her  red stroller, turned over in the sand, but could the sea have truly taken her daughter, whose body was never found? One fatal mistake, one walk and it was all over for Stella and Daniel, the blame all hers to bear.

Now Stella has Henrik and Milo, a happy life despite her terrible grief. It’s better to leave that tragedy in the past, where it belongs. Psychotherapy once saved her, pulled her out of the abyss, inspiring her to help others, studying psychology herself. She was good at it, her job, until now. A handwritten letter, a threat or warning is turning her life upside down. It could be the one hostile patient from her past or it could be Isabella, the woman whom she recommends group therapy to and believes could be her dead daughter, Alice. Her child whose body was never found, Alice who could have been taken!It isn’t just grief, making her see something familiar in the stranger, it is possible, she never believed her to be dead, she isn’t losing her mind!

Isabella is damaged, raised by an overbearing mother (Kerstin) who feels her child is slipping away, living in Stockholm, engaging in therapy that she doesn’t trust. Private thoughts should be kept private, she’s of the keep yourself to yourself generation. Her daughter is fragile and should be home where Kerstin doesn’t have to worry about her, can guide her, care for her. Her father, Hans passed away recently, and she’s had a hard time with it, she needs her mother! Why don’t people understand this? Isabella is seeing her caring mother in a different light due to the therapy sessions, questioning things in her life, even her father’s death. Things no longer make sense, therapy is opening her eyes but to what? She wants control of her life and her emotions, but why is that a threat to Kerstin.

Stella is getting too close to her patient, Henrik doesn’t like it a bit, knowing how vulernable his wife his to her past tragedy. Is this all just hysteria, is she projecting on the young patient? It’s impossible, irrational, Henrik doesn’t believe her, worries over her, could she be sick again? Stella is slipping, breaking but she is going to find out if Isabella is her Alice, at any cost.

This was engaging and strange at times, one of those stories about a mother’s worst fears coming true, though what follows seems more than a little impossible. Then again life is stranger than fiction at times too. It was good but not as thrilling as I had hoped, I think because I figured it out early on. It’s more a psychological drama about damaged people and I’ve read other novels with striking similarities but it was still enjoyable.

Publication Date: September 4, 2018

Penguin Group

G.P. Putnam’s Sons

A Little Bird Told Me by Marianne Holmes

40798758

Don’t cry, I think, watching as she swallows hard. Crying is for bigger things than this.

Growing up with secrets doesn’t make for any easy life,  it is 1976 and Robin likes to go swimming, trail after her brother Kit, and dodge encounters with the bully Debbie and her ‘gonks’. At home, the atmosphere is heavy with the weeping of women whom her mother often tries to save from themselves, or abusive spouses. Then there is the mysterious cowboy, who like a shadow is hanging around her, offering her little presents that he says really belong to her to begin with. They are magic things, for protection. What does she need protection from, though? Her nights are spent restless with bad dreams, could they be memories?

To settle her fears, her mother always tells Robin her favorite story, about how they made their home here, ‘blown into town on a storm.’ That storm isn’t the baddest they’ll encounter. Her mother is meddling in a marriage, and the townspeople are saying terrible things about her. She is far too young to really know which way is up, angry that her mother is taking Robyn’s pitiful savings to help a grown woman, Sharon Mace and her little boy, Danny. No one is as irate though as Sharon’s husband. There isn’t much the police can do, this is the 70’s, and a wife belongs at home with her man!

What would Robin know of fathers caring enough to hunt down their wife and children, her own doesn’t even have a role in her life, is nothing but a wisp of smoke, not even a memory. Even if it’s in violence, Danny is lucky his dad cares at all. All of her inquiries into who her own might be are met with outlandish stories, ‘he is a Russian spy’, or a ‘great explorer’.  Even his name is fluid, Roger today, Roberto tomorrow. She, her mother and Kit have Mathew though, the only true father they’ve ever known after ‘crashing into his life with the storm’.

Robin keeps the cowboy a secret, until her mother sees the ‘gifts’ and acts funny about it.

Jump to the future, 12 years later Robin and Kit are back in town, their old house a standing reminder of their haunting past. In retracing the steps of their old life, will she uncover the truths her mother could never divulge? The locals aren’t happy about their return, but she can’t run forever. The not knowing is killing Robyn, and she doesn’t want Kit to know the risks she has taken to find out what really happened. Maybe Eve knows something, their mother’s friend? So much has changed in their absence, and so little. Young Robyn is blinded by her naiveté, as all children are, in the early years taking what they are told for fact, no reason to doubt the parent who loves them. Robyn in the 80’s is lost, damaged and depserate for closure. The back and forth between then and now worked for the most part, but Robyn was more solid in her youth to me, more of a ghost of her former self (maybe that’s done on purpose) in the later years.

Where is their mother? Why was she so passionate about helping others, at the risk of her own little family? The one person who may know the truth is the one man they need to stay away from, the one who promised to hunt them down with the ominous threat ‘Family is blood and pain’ swearing he will teach Robyn and Kit his meaning. Does she really want the truth?

My issue is, with all the secrecy of the past, shouldn’t their mother lay low rather than bring attention to herself in such a small town? Ok, nature will out- it’s her way to save others, still one must ask, ‘why at great risk to herself and her children?’ Maybe I would have cared more about Kit and Robyn in their later years if we had a bit more filler about what they were up to after tragedy struck. Luckily I cared about Robyn as a little girl, if not as much when she was grown up because she wasn’t as real to me, so I wanted to keep reading for little Robyn’s sake. The ending was solid, one I didn’t quite predict. I admit it’s hard to be kept in the dark as a reader about some things, so I can see how it could frustrate others.When we meet Robyn in the 80’s the pace slows a bit, and I found myself looking forward to the past more. It takes a bit of a dark turn at the end. With that said, it is a good debut novel, and I look forward to Holmes future stories.

Publication Date: September 13, 2018

Agora Books

Amidst This Fading Light by Rebecca Davis

40933219

Time could do many things; soften the blow of misaligned teeth, erase a dead girl’s name and fade memories that ought to be forgotten.

One family moves into Germantown, the Picketts, treated with suspicion, disrupting the ways of the founding families. Following in the footsteps of his older brother Marlowe, Reggie buys the old weathered Himmel homeplace, but one Mrs. Honora Brow says to her audience, “Well, I’ll be. Didn’t you feel that chill?” The Brows have always held sway over the people of Germantown, known to be gifted in the art of ‘Prediction’. The woman who holds fast to her ‘gut feelings’ and it doesn’t bode well that the Picketts don’t hold her in high esteem, as do the rest of the townsfolk. Mrs. Picket is never wrong, how dare these inferior people doubt her? But no one could imagine the stink of tragedy clinging to the Picketts and how it would change the entire town.

This is a brutal tale of the ways in which life picks at people, like vultures. It is about what remains to be salvaged in the wreckage, and the ways in which we are tied. Taking place in the Piedmont region of North Carolina during the Great Depression, choices to be made, actions that horrify our sensibilities today were a reality that had to be confronted. The sorrow begins in Chapter 1, with the passing of a child and a large black pot. A people made of stronger stuff, in a time that snuffed you out with any sign of weakness in character.

Quince isn’t the boy Reggie hoped for, he feels robbed of strapping sons to help work the land and carry on the Pickett name and he never let’s Quince forget it. The slight, dreamy boy gets under his father’s skin while his wife Helen knows the boy is of a tender nature, but Reggie must toughen the boy, and it goes back to his own father, “There was nothing more destructive than his father’s displeasure.” And so the cycle continues. His uncle Marlowe is more successful with the right sort of boys, strong, helpful. Everything is much easier for him, and it eats at Reggie to compare their lives, to know his son could never live up to his inheritance, not like Marlowe’s boys. Years pass, Marlowe has plans, banking on Quince’s tragedy, always wanting something from him. The vile, heartless decision just to make money is enough to turn anyone’s stomach. The horrors never seem to want to release Quince, not even with the gentle touch of love to ground him to the present.

Lela is new to town and quickly befriended by young Louise Pickett, but she can’t help but notice her quiet brother, Quince. So begins their relationship that takes them through blinding grief, deep abiding love, the shaky years of college and the uncertain future that waits for them.  The Picketts come to define Germantown, not necessarily for the better. Something about other people’s tragedy makes those close to it think they own it. Neighbors are often too near, judging as Honora does from the start, setting the Picketts up with her smug, superior ‘facts’ about that chillingly odd brood, and yet on the flip side of the coin you have Lela’s family and their unwavering support. A tale about the whims of fate from illnesses, war, abuse, birth, love and everything in between.

It’s a heavy read, sometimes you really need to light that match and burn down the painful reminders of your past to ash.

Publication Date: August 28, 2018

Southern Fried Karma

Putney: A Novel by Sofka Zinovieff

36421256

She couldn’t have known what I was feeling but I wanted to lie down before her and let her walk on me.

That ‘she’ is a child! This novel is one of my favorites of 2018, having read it months ago it was killing me to hold back on posting a review per the publisher’s request.

A rising star in the London arts scene of the early 1970s, gifted composer Ralph Boyd is approached by renowned novelist Edmund Greenslay to score a stage adaptation of his most famous work. Welcomed into Greenslay’s sprawling bohemian house in Putney, an artistic and prosperous district in southwest London, the musical wunderkind is introduced to Edmund’s beautiful activist wife Ellie, his aloof son Theo, and his nine-year old daughter Daphne, who quickly becomes Ralph’s muse.

Muse and so much more. It really begs the question, do more carefree times really excuse illicit relationships, forbidden ‘love’, seduction of an innocent? What is interesting are the different answers people of all ages give you! Make no mistake, Daphne is groomed however ‘pure’ Ralph swears his intentions are and it begins for her at the tender age of 9. Oh but there is no touching, no spoiling, nothing so vile as that, not yet anyway. Nothing illicit in his train of thinking, which seems to be off the tracks! Her father is Edmund Greenslay, famous novelist living a bohemian life with his gorgeous Greek wife Ellie, an activist whose not always present. How could a child surrounded by the energy of such parents not be enchanting, intelligent and wildly imaginative? He is beyond enraptured! She becomes an obsession, in a different home maybe his access to Daphne would have been less easy but it’s so hard for Ralph to keep away from this extraordinary creature. Soon he has treasures for her, the attention she sorely needs in a home where her artistic parents are always entertaining, working, traveling after all it’s the 1970s, and their parenting is carefree. They have important endeavours that don’t always make room for raising their offspring. They are so trusting of their circle, it never crosses their minds to wonder why a grown man is so attentive of their darling child.

Children love secrets, and what’s more exciting to a lonely yet adventurous little girl than a secret that’s ‘just for us‘? This becomes the theme of their relationship. Ralph is convinced it’s pure, feels he is behaving so long as it’s not sexual until she turns 13 and everything alters.

Daphne now calls her past the ‘Dark Ages’,  where in the wreckage lies a broken marriage, drug abuse in her twenties, trying to reclaim herself, create a stable life in her thirties and presently trying to prove to Ralph that she is okay, that she is healthy and good, that she has made a life worth living. With her teenaged daughter Libby by her side Daphne has returned to London, stepping back into her childhood best friend Jane’s life. Jane was the one person who kept Daphne and Ralph’s secrets, possibly to her own detriment. If Daphne holds her love for Ralph in some charming bubble, Jane is there to burst it with the seedy, ugly reality. She wasn’t always so immune to his ‘compelling’ nature, our Jane. How could she be when even the adults seemed to hum with excitement in his presence. More than her friend, it could well be through mothering her daughter that Daphne begins to see just how much she was hunted, abused. But how will everyone feel when she confronts the truth?

Ralph deludes himself, and the reader’s feelings may well sour more and more with the reading, he gets darker and darker. Instead of being a sinister, dark foreboding presence, though at the start and through much of the novel he is human, we like our monsters to be completely dark so we can spot them don’t we? But Ralph truly is the skin such threats walk around in. Charming, trustworthy to the adults, a friend of the family and wise enough to know what makes a little girl’s heart tick. Smart enough to dodge being found out ‘sniffing around’ her. Daphne is fragile (as all children are) and has no understanding of the adult world, in fact is exposed to it far too soon  with a bohemian upbringing. Love is a fairy tale to little girls, a grown man is exciting! We are meant to trust and like Ralph sometimes and that is the nail in the coffin. He inserts himself in young Daphne’s life, happening upon her everywhere she goes feeling surely that, oh its fate. “He was Dog; always waiting for her..” full of promises, educating her on Stravinsky, a gravitational force in the space where one’s parents should be. I spent so much time reading this novel angry at their lax attitude. There are girlfriends for Ralph, but Daphne has his heart, will always be the one. Loved by her mother and father, she forgives them their absences when really, should she? How will they feel much later, when Daphne faces the rot of it all?

Jane has felt for a long time that Daphne’s ‘chaos might be contagious.’ There is a lot of trepidation in Daphne’s return, their last encounter during her wedding was of a wilder friend. Yet she is as intrigued by Daphne as she was when they first became friends. Soon, they are on the phone making plans to meet up. Jane is pushy as an adult, she knows her friend was victimized even if Daphne doesn’t own that reality and she is going to convince her of this, she is there to take the ‘rosie tinted glasses’ off of her friend, who still holds Ralph on some pedestal. She knows full well what went on at 7 Barnabas Road wasn’t pure and had nothing to do with love. It is sick, Jane knows all of it is sick, but at the back of the reader’s mind one wonders, what exactly is driving Jane’s rage?  The shifting perspectives are wildly different.  Daphne’s strolls through memory lane are haunting to read, disturbing because she holds Ralph in a special place in her heart even now. “Although her memories of being with Ralph as a girl were tender, she knew they could not be talked about openly. It had always been a secret, but not a dirty one.” This is how victims are made. What Daphne romanized Jane sees as poison, just how far-reaching was Ralph’s desires?

What about time, surely if enough time has passed you can’t accuse someone, destroy the life of a gifted, talented beloved man? What if that man is tied, still, to your family? The times… those seventies were all about dissolving boundaries, free love… At least, that’s what Ralph feels.  How strange, being in the mind of an abuser and how they justify it to themselves or the victim who sees their situation as different, special. This is perfect for a book club, so many directions to go, so much to debate. All the enablers…

Yes, read it!

Publication Date: August 21, 2018

Harper