Vacuum in the Dark: A Novel by Jen Beagin

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While her parents were busy ruining their marriage, she’d spent three or four days a week with her paternal grandfather, Woody Boyle, a mild-mannered man, an avid reader and functional alcoholic. But he’d taught her all of life’s essentials: how to spit like a man, take a good photograph, drive stick, make a stiff drink, swim butterfly, French-braid, and, perhaps most importantly, how to play dumb.

Mona’s voice is always entertaining for me as it’s unfiltered. In Pretend I’m Dead it was all about her love for drug addict Mr. Disgusting and his “creepy honesty.” She staunchly remains messy, keeps her cracks like we all do and isn’t going to transform into a perfect human ideal giggling under some rainbow because she has it all figured out. Does anyone ever truly do this in real life? Wherever you go, there you are whether you’ve gained wisdom or not, you’re still you! So Mr. Disgusting is out, what does she do? Takes up with a married man she calls Dark, of course, which isn’t really a step up from chasing after her dead junkie boyfriend. Still cleaning other’s filth, she spends her days swooning over the love notes he brazenly leaves behind for her to find on her cleaning days at his home. The stupor their love-making puts her in dissipates when Rose, his wife, enlightens her about the true state of their marriage. Then there is the mystery pooh, yep… poop. Jen Beagin can spin some of the strangest situations for Mona, darkly hilarious, she seems to witness people at their lowest. I shouldn’t grin like a lunatic when I read her books but I do. This novel is a great escape from the usual writing out there.

Soon she meets the barbarians, cats owned by the Kosas, a pill popping Hungarian couple. The murderous cats are as exotic as Lena and Paul, both artists with a house that feels like a lover waiting to be explored by Mona. Explore it she does, making her own art, taking photographs while talking to herself (Terry, her subconscious or imaginary friend), crossing boundaries, as always. We learn more about Mona’s past in this book. Yoko and Yoko (Shiori and Nigel) are still telling her to ‘stay curious’ but she isn’t curious enough about her childhood, would rather leave what is hiding in that dark abyss untouched. Lena and Paul convince her to pose nude for them, but it’s the way Lena helps Mona feel carefree enough to ‘bare’ herself that bonds them as much as Lena’s “war stories”. Then there are the pills, no big deal… Lena can mentor her, help her get her foot into the art world, do something with her photographs. Lena helps her give birth to the meaning behind her pictures, which tell a story Mona hadn’t been paying attention to until Lena’s keen eye comes along. Their intimacy happens fast, Mona is finally opening herself up to someone, telling Lena a story she buried long ago, making her vulnerable in a way she has never been and just like that, Lena is gone, a sudden abrupt departure.

Mona is left alone to pose for Paul as Lena is called away for work at the gallery, props are firing off memories of her past better left untouched. She discovers through Paul that Lena hasn’t been as open and forthcoming as she seems. There is something about Mona that has inspired Lena to pull her into their world, that has Lena praying for her and for rain, rain in a clear sky. Paul wants too much from her, it begins to feel wrong, and to the surface the muck of her long-held shame rises. The couple may be a catalyst forcing her to understand that her long held beliefs about her relationships have been skewed, always forcing her into the role of villain.

Licking her wounds from betrayal, her biological mother calls and asks her to come out to LA and pick up the boxes she has kept. Returning feels like regressing, and her mother and stepfather Frank seem to have ‘gone to the birds’. Drug abuse, mental illness… all sorts of troubles in her family genetics, but things can change, people can sober up and face their pain. It’s never too late for one’s mother to take her rightful place in your life, is it?  For Mona, it’s ‘mercy’ that brings her to tears, and tough Frank may surprise her as much as her ‘reformed’ mother. The forces of nature lead her to a man named Kurt and Bakersfield but old habits die hard, Mona doesn’t always do the right thing for herself, and she sometimes figures things out too late, but some people take the long way home. Mona likes to chase her own tail, but by the end she may find direction and clarity.

I think Jen Beagin is fantastic because maybe I enjoy my characters shell-shocked by their life experiences, it is easier to relate to imperfection. I loved it!

Publication Date: February 26, 2019

Scribner

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The Weight of a Piano: A Novel by Chris Cander

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“Now, stop with the crying before your misery becomes contagious.”

The Weight of a Piano is a heavy one in this latest novel by Chris Cander. The story begins with Julies Blüthner (maker and founder of Blüthner piano and factory in Leipzig Germany)  walking through the forest high in the Romanian mountains searching for the perfect tree for his creations. One such piano will be given to Ekaterina “Katya” Dmitrievna when she befriends a sad, elderly German musician. “The music was proof of his torment. He was a monster, a demon, and ogre. Katya loved him.” So too begins her passion for music, and her talent leads her to become herself a musician as she grows up in the Soviet Union. The piano becomes as much the love of her life as anyone. Then she meets Mikhail Zelden, whose studying civil engineering, ‘very important work’, and wonders “what would it be like to love him?” This love will take her to America, where the life she lived before resembles nothing like the one she and Mikhail are forced to make with their child. The piano is left behind in Russia, for a while, Mikhail promises, only until he can finagle a way to deliver his wife her beloved instrument which is no easy feat. The piano is the one thing that keeps Katya sane, that eases her suffering, the touching of keys an emotional release that’s become her lifeblood.

It’s 2012 and we meet Clara living in California , current owner of the Blüthner,  gifted to her by her father when she was only 12, the old thing  now collecting dust and unplayed in her guest bedroom until her relationship comes to an end and she must find another place to live. She is desperate to sell it, no room for the piano to go, it’s become baggage she’d be better off unloading, though it remains the only tie to her father, whose tragic death in a mysterious fire along with her cold, distant mother left her orphaned when she was young. What does she, a mechanic, need the Blüthner for anyway when she can’t  even play the thing, as her ex reminded her constantly. Where Katya found sanctuary with the piano, for Clara it was in her uncle’s garage, sent to live with he and her aunt after her parents deaths, burying her shocking grief by learning about the inner workings of automobiles, if only she better understood her own insides. Reluctant to commit to any boyfriend, she finds herself alone again, and worse she impulsively sold the Blüthner to a man named Greg Zeldin, whose already sent people from New York to pick it up. Striking a deal to rent it to him, she breaks her hand, making it impossible for her to work, at the worst time possible. Soon she finds herself journeying to Death Valley, where the photographer plans to complete a series of photos with the Blüthner as his main subject, her mechanic skills could be of use in the middle of nowhere, a handy excuse. Less than enthused about the plan, it may well be just what she needs to get her head on straight, pull her life into some semblance of order again.

Tormented by her childhood still at 26, the fights and silences between her parents,  her own mother’s mysterious bottomless dissatisfaction with their little family of three, Clara slowly opens up to Greg and discovers he too is haunted by his past. As his own story begins to take shape, it dawns on the reader why the Blüthner is vital to his work, cathartic even. As the two become closer they begin to find clarity and meaning in things that happened in their childhoods. Connections are made that can only be formed with an adult mind. What they learn of each other may be key to release them from the burden of their pain.

The story swims back and forth between Clara’s tale and Katya’s, from her time in Russia and the early days of her blossoming love and marriage to Mikhail, to the hardships of their lives as immigrants, it’s damning affects on their son. I enjoyed Katya’s story the most, I could have read a book about her and Mikhail and been just as sated. The ending was beautifully symbolic and I was surprised and proud of Clara’s choice. You don’t have to be interested in pianos to enjoy this novel, nor be a musician of any sort. It is a book about dreams that die beneath the brutal harshness of reality and destiny. One moment can change everything, even sour great love. It is a tale of family dysfunction, loss, grief, music, homeland and how our childhood can haunt us far into the future. Definitely a good read!

Publication Date: January 22, 2019

Knopf

Doubleday Publishing

Pickle’s Progress: A Novel by Marcia Butler

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A worm in Pickle’s brain told him this was reasoning he should bite on. Everyone was entitled to a breakdown or a breakthrough, and if he were honest with himself, Pickle wasn’t sure which he were facing.

What did I just read? Twin brothers Stan and Pickle McArdle are just as connected, though grown men, as they were in their toxic mother’s womb. They don’t live together anymore, which is a bit inconvenient for Pickle and Karen, but when Karen and her husband Stan get in an accident intoxicated out of their minds (a common occurence) a mixed up young woman named Junie becomes a strange catalyst for some serious sibling rivalry. Does it count as sibling rivalry if you’re unaware of it (Stan)? Is this entanglement a New York thing, kidding… It’s handy that Stan’s brother is on the police force, Pickle always comes through and cleans up their messes. This time the mess is coming home with Stan and Karen, Junie “a woman standing directly in front of them, perhaps five hundred yards away, with her hands at the side of her face, mouth open, like the Edvard Munch painting”, the reason for the accident. Boyfriend Jacob jumped off the bridge, but she didn’t follow. That’s the problem with pacts, someone often opts out after you’ve already committed, or chooses to do it without you. June is Pickle’s favorite month, could love be on the rise? Karen’s reasons for helping out a stranger in dire need of support begins to make sense as she befriends Junie, who feels like a freeloader. Stan isn’t thrilled about the young woman living in their brownstone, his nature is ‘odd’ but Karen seems more overbearing mother than wife.

Pickle, cleaned up all nice, takes in interest in Junie while also making demands on Karen, and what a deceptive piece our Karen is. Secrets, betrayals and at the heart of it all it began with a mother who chose one twin as her favorite. I kept having to remind myself this was written by a woman, Pickle has plenty of reasons for his rage towards Karen, his envy toward his brother, resentment too but I didn’t feel there was a woman’s voice, isn’t that odd? We’re meant to have empathy for Karen, but in my mind her arm didn’t take much twisting and certainly she isn’t as smart as she plays up when there are a million ways she could have handled everything. I know, it makes no sense until you read, but I refuse to post spoilers. Junie is this mess that could have been a hell of a character but instead spends more time in retreat.

I hate you, I love you would be the perfect summary for what is going on between all the major players. Karen has the perfect setup, she has Pickle right where she wants him but he isn’t playing her game anymore. Her control is dimishing. It’s that ‘breakdown’ or ‘breakthrough’ thing racing through Pickle’s veins, plans swirling through his mind that won’t allow him to live in shackles anymore, funny for a cop, how captive he’s allowed himself to be.  Junie, despite Stan’s resistance, could be an antidote to all his misery. Stan is the most believable character, his artlessness, his lack of self-awareness, it’s obvious he doesn’t slip out of his own mind enough to wonder at everything happening all around him. It’s hard to hate him, there’s something childlike about him. The twins are wildly different, Pickle is abrasive where Stan is diluted in his ‘masculinity’ so to speak. Which unraveling Stan makes it easy to understand why their twisted mother favored him, if she had a bone in her body of maternal love, which is doubtful, it’s possible there was fear he would be lost on his own. Junie, I don’t know, she was more a presence than a character I could connect with. Pickle and Karen, those two are absolutely their own problem and each other’s. I just could not like either of them. I still don’t have a clue who Junie is, to be honest. I keep going back to her angry because she should have blazed brighter with such a wild start.

The ending, maybe a little too neat for me. I mean, all’s well that ends well, really? I want to witness the confrontations, you’re telling me everything just lines up? Who are these people?

Publication Date: April 9, 2019

Central Avenue Publishing

 

The Night Tiger: A Novel by Yangsze Choo

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If I’d been named something feminie and delicate like “Precious Jade” or “Fragrant Lily”, things might have turned out differently.

Set in 1930’s colonial Malaysia, Yangsze Choo has written a novel rich in Maylayan folklore, superstition, tradition involving ghosts who interact with the living, a were-tiger on the prowl and intensely realistic dreams. The characters very names are steeped with meaning in the five Confucian Virtues, too.  Houseboy Ren, 11 years old promises his dying master, Dr. MacFarlane that he will find his missing finger, long ago amputated, and bury with his body. The man’s soul cannot rest unless his body is intact, but there are only 49 soul days total for Ren to complete his mission.

Numbers are lucky or unlucky in Chinese culture, Ji Lin has just hit the 44 day mark in her shameful, secret, second job as a dance hall girl at the May Flower Dance Hall, advertised as “instructors” but covertly entertaining men. A job Ji Lin takes to honor her mother’s mahjong debts, hoping her cold stepfather never finds discovers. Working as an apprentice in a dress shop for her mother’s friend Mrs.Tham has been her salvation, yet could never earn Ji Lin enough money, not when most of her payment is made in learning the skill and covering her boarding cost (living in the dressing room). On that unlucky day, the 44th mark, a patron of the dance hall gifts her with a shriveled finger in a glass bottle only to turn up dead the next day! Is it a curse of some sort? His aunt certainly doesn’t want it back, despite claiming it was his ‘good luck charm’. If it’s so lucky, why does she seem horrified by the sight of it?  Ji Lin must discover where it comes from, it’s true owner.

Upon one of her promised visit to her mother in Falim, she finds her stepbrother Shin home from the hospital in Batu where he has a scholarship studying medicine. Further education is closed to her, despite her keen intelligence, as much as marriage to Ming, whom she has loved for a long time. Her life is weighted by bad luck, it seems. Her mother, a beautiful fragile woman remarried after her father’s death to a tin ore dealer widower with a son. With ‘an eye for beauty‘ her mother was one of the few people that could turn the hard man’s eyes soft. Never much interested in Ji Lin, to his own son he is abusive and cruel, making the home anything but a warm, close one. Despite this, Ji Lin and Shin have a unique relationship. Ji Lin searches for the finger’s owner with Shin’s help, siblings who share the same birthday (though not blood related) passing themselves off now as a couple. Under this guise, Ji Lin will find herself tied to Ren as well. What about the boy in her strange dreams, who talks about his brother? In the village where Ren works under a new Master, William, people are turning up dead. All signs point to an animal,  a leopard or a tiger until upon further investigation peculiarities are discovered upon the corpse of a woman (Ambika), the absence of blood despite puncture wounds. Is it a mythical creature killing the locals, or a murderer? Why? Deeming it a suspicious death doesn’t bode well for William who has his own secret ties to the woman. Once the investigator starts digging, as he will, they will discover William’s association to her. The locals are bound to fuel gossip, that it was a “Keramet” (sacred beast). William must maintain his composure. Ren is losing days  he sorely needs to honor his old master’s dying request, working for William. Soon permitted a few days of leave to visit Dr. MacFarlane’s grave, he must use his time wisely and find the finger, which is nowhere near. The tiger, though, occupies his mind as much as William’s, terrified it could it be his old master’s tormented soul in animal form. Ren is a fascinating character in his own right, a twin with a special connection to his brother, there remains a bond that surpasses the limits of this world. With his brother Yi’s death that “beacon” is still shining, but will it guide him in his quest, dim as it’s become?

The characters connections grow stronger, at times dangerously so. There are an untold amount of secrets kept from strangers, family members and even from one’s own self. This novel tackles several subjects such as culture and class but Ji Lin’s desire to have a career, to further her education especially being a female that must fight for what for males are given naturally makes this novel far richer. There is love, but Ji Lin isn’t going to be a swooning character, she is the hero in so many interactions, to my way of thinking. There are admirable qualities in both she and her stepbrother Shin. Being a male he can find his way in the world far easier than Ji Lin, but he has been cowed and brutalized by his father for so long, it’s amazing he has the strength to succeed, that with such an example, he has tenderness inside and cares about Ji Lin’s safety and happiness. Family situations can be limiting, and when the story begins everything seems unlucky and impossible for Ji Lin, but she never gives up. She doesn’t fully undertand her own heart, but will explore love in the most unexpected places while on her journey.

Love, Magic Realism/Supernatural occurences, dreams, spirits, traditions, death, murder… I can’t imagine a reader out there that would be disappointed. There isn’t one moment in this novel that drags, engaging from the first page to the last. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: February 12, 2019

Flatiron Books

Old Newgate Road: A Novel by Keith Scribner

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Secrets. He spoke of that night to almost no one for ten years, as if he’d just jumped town and what happened here, his entire childhood, didn’t stow away with him.

Cole has returned to his hometown of East Granby, Connecticut.  “It’s taken him nearly thirty years to come back…” in search of wood for his construction business, wood of superb quality, chestnut.  Being his busiest season the return isn’t meant to last longer than a few days, somehow he stays longer. The only piece of the past he wants are what he can take in his flatbed, the wood. As soon as he arrives, he can hear echoes of  his mother and her beautiful French, soon remembering her dreams of life in France, but to come the memories of the brutal fights, of the bruises, the years of abuse before his father stole her last breath. Remembering the rages that would move through his father, he feels disgust at any resemblance of brooding or anger he ever expressed when he was with Niki, his wife. Phil, his father, is as gruff as ever, sixteen years out of prison for murdering Cole’s mother, his mind is deteriorating with signs of dementia and Cole is surprised to find him living in their old home. One moment he is present, aware, the next he doesn’t know who his own son is. Trouble is brewing back home in Oregon with his son Daniel whose just been arrested, his social justice ideas hard not recognize as coming for an admirable place but no less criminal according to the law. Cole’s plan is to get his son working a job in tobacco, just like he did when he was a teenager. His son sees East Granby as ‘the sticks’, tobacco representing all the wealthy types he hates, though interested in the grandfather he is finally meeting who is teaching him how to make crepes. His father’s childhood finally open to him. Daniel is much wiser at times than his dad, seeing that not everything can be easily fixed, that it takes action, of course action is why Daniel is always getting himself in trouble. Then there is Liz, his first love back in his life again and the painful secrets she kept are finally being released too. Instead of a hot affair you expect from such novels, it brings to Cole’s mind all the ways he has failed his marriage and his wife Niki. For me, this makes the novel far more believable, that when the two come together it isn’t to salivate and pant over their old loves as if the past 30 years haven’t happened.

Liz brings up all the spoiled past tied up with her brother Kirk, someone in his youth Cole failed to confront. Much like being unable to stand up to his father, failing to stop his mother’s murder, he still carries guilt of failing Liz. It’s hard to even fathom giving a damn about the father who murdered your mother,  but it’s much too late to punish him because his father is slipping in and out of the past and present, confused. Cole has carried everything with him and allowed it, despite his best efforts of avoiding the traps of the past, to affect his family. Returning is to East Granby is a confrontation Cole never wanted, but he gets it all the same. Famous for mirroring his mother’s beliefs, that each time is ‘the last time’, he has embraced avoidance in his own life much the same. Kirk’s son LK (Little Kirk) becomes friends with Daniel but as things sour, the old Kirk proves he is still the same bully he always was.

Do we let tragic events define us? Sometimes they  do despite our best efforts. Maybe if he can work through the past, get his father sorted out he can move forward and have a chance again in his marriage with Niki? Be the father his son needs. His father still surprises him, and not all of it terrible. This is an exploration on abuse and how the past haunts us until we are able to face the dark monsters, in others and ourselves.

Out today!

Knopf

Doubleday Publishing

The Winter Sister:A Novel by Megan Collins

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Strange, now, to think of it, now that I was so far from that world, sucked back into the one I’d thought I’d peeled off of me like a sunburn.

Winter Sister, at its heart, is about more than the death of Persephone, Sylvie’s older sister. It’s about their mother’s ‘history of silence’ and strange ‘dark days’. Sylvie, before the tragedy of Persephone’s murder destroyed her mother, lived in the spotlight of her mother’s love, a tenderness that never seemed to shine over Persephone. Sylvie is the favored one, because she reminds their mother of the man who got away, according to her mom. With their independent mom, who could “love us more than a hundred fathers ever could” there was never any reason to know who those flings were. Perseophone never quite feels that all encompassing adoration and attention, and could have used a father’s love.

Sylvie thinks she harbors all the secrets that matter, that her shameful act the last night she saw her sister alive makes her as guilty of her murder as the actual killer. Persephone was forbidden to date, her mother knew nothing about Ben and their volatile relationship, nor the hidden fingertip sized bruises he left on her beautiful skin. Sylvie knows he killed her sister with his dangerous, brutal love but no one would ever accuse the mayor’s son of such an act, despite the reports that she mattered as “one of Spring Hill’s own”, Sylvia knows her sister is nothing to the town. In truth, they were never truly a part of Spring Hill. It takes the loss of her mother, when she most needs her to be present and the passage of time to see clearly what she missed sixteen years ago.

Present day and Sylvie works in a tattoo parlor, no longer known as ‘Persephone’s Sister’, having long ago shed that skin and reinvented a past for herself that doesn’t carry the tragic air of loss. In her new life, her sister hasn’t been murdered. On the night of her thirtieth birthday, the call comes about her mother’s cancer. Aunt Jill had stepped up and cared for her when her mother retreated to her room and from life in the aftermath of Persephone’s murder. Now, Aunt Jill is needed desperately by her own child, stretched too thin it’s time Sylvie do her duty and return home to help her mother through treatment. Never once had her mother checked in on her, not once did she give her the comfort she desperately needed after losing her beloved sister and now, she’s meant to play devoted, caring daughter to a mother she hasn’t spoken to in years, still just as bitter and mean as ever. To make matters worse, Ben works as a nurse at the cancer center, Ben who Sylvie is adamant got away with killing her sister.

In confronting the past, she must also question her mother’s coldness towards her sister all those years before she was killed. Could she have been the one abusing her? Why did it seem like they both shared a different mother? Has what she believed about Ben been wrong all this time? If not Ben, then who had reason to hurt Persephone? It is about being too young to understand the dynamics of relationships, being between childhood and adult things. It is a bond between sisters and how their mother’s attention or lack there of spills over into their interactions with each other, fueling resentment at times, and yet Persephone and Sylvie always chose each other, until one night Sylvie thinks she knows a way to save her sister from all consuming dangerous love. A decision she will regret all her life, a boulder of grief she carries in her gut.

Why didn’t her mother ever care enough to share in their grief together? Why is Ben telling a story that puts Persephone in a wildly different light? Maybe she didn’t know her sister as well as she thought, or built her own version of their love based on the evidence she saw. Could she really have been wrong all this time? Her mother is sober now, and it’s frightening, her vulnerability. “How much of Persephone’s relationship with Mom had I missed? How many small but accumulating hurts and dismissals had I filtered out over the years, swathed, as I’d been, in Mom’s arms?” Anaïs Nin once wrote, “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are” and that could be the title of this book. The truths Sylvie has held in her mind begin to disintegrate upon her return home, with the clarity of adult eyes. She is stunted, she hasn’t been living her life fully since that night. I found what moved me more than the ‘who done it’ is the dysfunction in her family, that each person’s history in the same home can be outrageously different, and the truth lies somewhere in between. Youth is often a cloud that plays with memory. Fear, too, can color how we behave, or raise our children but when a child needs their mother, there is never an explanation good enough to exonerate her actions. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: February 5, 2019

Touchstone

Atria Books

Adèle: A Novel by Leila Slimani

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She wishes she were just an object in the midst of a horde. She wants to be devoured, sucked, swallowed whole.

Adèle is more than bored, every desire she has is insatiable and nothing is going to fill that void. Adèle’s husband Richard is a surgeon who loves to spoil her with a gorgeous apartment in Paris,  has pulled strings to get her the job she has as a journalist for a successful newspaper but her enthusiasm has died at work, as much as her joy in mothering their son, Lucien. Apart from fearing a baby would ruin her body and rob her idleness when she found herself pregnant, she comes to love her son but even that love couldn’t tame her urges. There is a line, “For now, she remains in her filth, suspended between two worlds, the mistress of the present tense.”  Filth it is, she is numb, she isn’t really alive and there isn’t a sexual encounter anywhere that can cure what ails her. There isn’t anything erotic about her encounters either, and I don’t feel it’s meant to be, though I labeled this under erotica for readers, because of the sex. She leaves each entanglement more soiled and broken, a life mounting in lies, disappearing from her own child for seedy encounters. On a superficial level she is easy to judge, there isn’t much to like about her , she has so much more than most people and we all know the argument is you can be just as unhappy with everything as someone who has nothing, but let’s just say her standing in life is quite comfortable, minus the struggles the majority of us cope with, a day in her cushy life would be a godsend, naturally this doesn’t endear her to most readers. She is certainly an object, over and over again, as still and devoid of life as a rock.

She is the saboteur of her own happiness and security. Then there is Richard, let’s talk about Richard. It’s easier not to acknowledge the cracks in your wife, to simply play the martyr and suffer for your beloved, to tune out. Then, when Richard finally must lift his head out of the dirt he’s buried it in,  he can play at savior or master depending on how you look at it. Richard can fix this, right? It’s so easy, it’s all about control. If he closes his eyes nice and tight, he won’t have to accept reality as it stands, right?  Just change the scenery, Richard knows best! We’re meant to feel sorry for him, and I do to a point, but he is as much the problem as Adèle’s sexual compulsions. Nothing about her trysts soothes her suffering, she is human wreckage. “She had always thought that a child would cure her.” Why are people always looking outside themselves for the cure?  Who really wants to save another person from themselves, and can you? Richard is always reaching out, trying to touch her it seems. She cannot be touched or reached, she cannot feel hence her desire to be swallowed whole, to be an object only. The novel could also be about the excruciating patience of Richard’s love, because only love that suffers is true? Right? Right? Is Richard just as sick? There is honesty though, in being in love with her still, love tangled in resentment, rage, and pain. His desire for her ‘violent and selfish’ is as corrupt as her own uncontrollable hunger and needs. They are both addicted, if you ask me. Both should be getting treatment. There is a slight peek into her family dysfunction, between she and her parents. Her own father clung to unhappiness,  life among the common people not good enough for him, the closeness she had with her father, who never saw the dirty girl she was, at least according to her mother, never let his ideal of her be defiled by who she truly was at her core, eyes closed to her antics. Is she this way because of her mother, or is it an illness her father had, a deep-rooted dissatisfaction that she inherited? We’ll never know as it’s not deeply explored, but the rot began in childhood. It seems it was an either/or. It’s dad or me! That her mother punishes her for being her father’s favorite.

She is easy to despise, to feel disgusted by. Beauty hides the ugly inside, that monster lurking that won’t look so appealing as time has its way with her. By the end, I was embarrassed for Adèle. It’s such a sad spiral, I spent most of the novel just feeling pity towards her, imagine living with all that rot within, all that indifference, to walk through life so numbed that you destroy everything you have just to feel. Tell me, who the hell wants to be pitied?

One of the saddest moments is when Adèle wishes she could confide in her mother. “She was a burden to her mother when she was a child. Now she has become an adversary…” a child that never had her mother’s tenderness, and maybe because of that faces such a destructive bitterness. Maybe it’s because I am a mother that I felt that moment like a gut punch. Who would Adèle have been if she knew a moment of guidance from her mother? Her mother’s adversary, imagine that.

Publication Date: January 15, 2019

Penguin Books