Look How Happy I’m Making You: Stories by Polly Rosenwaike

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A woman’s body was suppsed to know exactly what to do.

In Polly Rosenwaike’s debut collection of stories, women are confronting more than just motherhood. There are relationship struggles, bodies that are failing to behave as nature intended, and conflicting emotions within their own minds. Growing up girls are rarely privy to the reality of pregnancy and childbirth. It isn’t like all those movies where an unexpected pregnancy is a happy blessing, or the moment you try for a baby its immediate succes, the men are all adoring, the mother to be is glowing and when the time comes the couple has supportive family, friends, money and boom her body is back to its pre-pregnancy shape. Of course the baby and mother bond instantly, there isn’t any struggle breast-feeding, absolutely no sign of postpartum depression!

The reality is, there is jealousy particularly when you can’t get pregnant and all around you everyone else seems fruitful. Some women wait for a partner to arrive and realize they are stuck in a constant state of expecting, better maybe to have a child alone, for another her child’s birth represents the cycle of life and death as her beloved aunt is dying, a moment of joy tangled in grief. Pregnancies themselves aren’t one size fits all, for some months are spent consumed by illness, stress, pain. Some women get desperate and lie, their desire to grasp at their last chance to have a child before their biological clock turns everything off. Maybe forcing a man who is too young, who hasn’t chosen to be a father, through deceit. That sometimes, dishonesty feels like the only way to get what you want.Then there is the depths of postpartum depression, because expectant mothers never truly think it will happen to them. Your emotions turning you against your own nature, a dual person who can love and then feel resentment towards the baby, repulsed with breast-feeding, exhausted, visualizing doing terrible things to your child. Oh no, you would never! Courting thoughts of your own demise…all the panic within’. This is just one window to look through at the characters within.

A woman  psychologist is a ‘curator’ of babies laughter, but one infant’s silence is a tragedy that forces her to face her own cowardice. A childless couple (by choice, in agreement) find a shift in their desires when the husband changes his mind, because men can feel the tick of a daddy clock too. The manuals will tell you a lot, but not everything. There is so much advice about pregnancy, parenthood in books, from friends, doctors, family, strangers and online, and still yet it might not speak to your situation. Parenthood makes you hate and love your partner, it can seal your bond or break it. A woman may dream of being a mother her whole life, idealizing motherhood but when the moment comes may feel like an absolute failure. Another woman may become a mother on accident, with reluctance and fall head over heels, discover she was born for it, a natural! Others may decide to go it alone, or to never have a child at all. The kingdom of parenting never truly runs smoothly. It is a land dominated by disruption, illness, surprise attacks as much as celebration and love. Our bodies through pregnancy are the same, they can be foe or friend. Our thoughts can betray us just as much as those we love, and that bundle of joy along with our hormones can wreak havoc too, reminding mothers “Look How Happy I’m Making You”. Yes, read it! There has been quite a bit of fiction recently delving into the territory of motherhood and I champion it! We need to explore every crevice of what can go wrong (or even just feel wrong) as much as the good. When a woman is struggling, it shouldn’t be a desert period with no one to help. It’s good to know that it isn’t all teddy bear picnics, that women just like you struggle sometimes. There really isn’t a solid ‘supposed to’ in pregnancy, parenthood. It isn’t ‘one size fits all’. What pressure to be told what you should feel, how you’re meant to engage as if each baby is quiet, peaceful. Some babies come into this world squalling and how can you not resent the smugness of mothers whose little sweatpea sleeps like an angel bragging about their special bond. I wish I could have read such fiction when I was a young mother. This will be out in the new year!

Publication Date: March 19, 2019

Doubleday Books

 

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We Were Mothers: A Novel by Katie Sise

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Mothers took their children’s behavior so personally, and Sarah thought it was a waste of energy, because when you’re a mother you have zero control, and having a child is a tremendous act of optimism bordering on magical thinking. It was the biggest chance you could ever take.

It appears for the women in this novel, the second biggest, most dangerous chance they can take is on love. I don’t say that in the light-hearted ‘love is adventure’ way either. There are quite a few characters to keep track of, none of them seem happy with their love lives. Cora spends her time lusting over Jeremy, feeling ashamed for not being a better wife, for not yearning for her husband Sam more often. Jade can barely stomach Jeremy’s touch. There has been devastating loss, with the death of Maggie (daughter, sister, lover) years ago that no one has truly been able to get past. More painful still to her family was how she died, her own stupid fault as the drunk driver in the car accident that killed her the night of her sister Cora and Sam’s engagement party. Sam survived (Cora’s husband) and so did Jeremy, her friend who were both in the car.  The wedding went on, Cora and Sam had twins George and Lucy and tried to make happy memories from the grief that remained. Everything seemed straight forward, Maggie made an irrecerseable stupid mistake, and it cost Maggie her life. Despite the facts, so much regret and shame reamins to share since that night, still so many secrets untouched that years will never be enough to bury. In deep sorrow, relationships formed, marriages happened, life moved along, children were born. Jeremy is married to Jade now, once very close to Maggie (devastated for deeper reasons after her passing) trying for a child, Jade barely feels a lick of attraction for him these days. As she struggles with the emotions she’s tried to close off, Jade fakes it hoping she can get through every moment of intimacy between them, shocking as he is very good-looking, charming and successful. She has her own secrets concerning her relationship with Maggie. Six years passing hasn’t made life without her any easier.

Children need babysitters, and Mira is a beautiful young woman, daughter of Dash and Laurel. What happens, though, when Cora discovers her journal describing a passionate encounter with Sam, her husband? Worse, what if that isn’t his biggest secret? How can she ever trust him again? Should she? Laurel is frightened when Mira turns up missing, and of course Sam is suspect. Worse, Laurel is dealing with her own marital problems with Dash’s increasingly aggressive behavior. His daughters, Mira and Anna, with the intense drama and confusion they cause bring his spiraling madness to head. Out comes the monster that Laurel has been cowering from, but is it too late to finally stand up for herself, her girls?  To Sarah, who still grieves the death of her girl Maggie, Laurel seems pompous, with her ‘professionally blown out’ perfect hair. Disgusted by the ‘blame mothering’ as much as the one-upmanship game of women like Sarah, too she has to contend with her husband’s ‘not so new now’ wife. A friend once, of sorts, now by the side of the man she was meant to end her days beside. Then when they had a chance to try again, the shocking devastation of Maggie’s drunk driving accident. The panic attacks may have stopped, but there isn’t a day she doesn’t think of her girl until what she thought of as fact comes to light as a big lie. She will do anything, right or wrong, to keep her family safe, she can’t lose another daughter, she won’t!

This story is sometimes all over the place but it isn’t bad. The men aren’t worth a damn, sadly. Narcissistic, violent, criminal, selfish but good-looking. Is good looking a quality? No? Some of the characters worked for me, I liked Jade but would have preferred a little more meat to her and Maggie’s past. Jeremy I could take or leave, he was sort of just there. Sam, well he’s a real nightmare isn’t he? Dash goes from calm to hurricane at the snap of a finger, which is the point when dealing with abuse. Mira is naive, a bit stupid but that’s youth sometimes. Laurel is the perfect example of women who put on a persona to hide the destructive lives they suffer behind closed doors. I don’t think there could be a sadder bunch of women in one story, nor men who will do nothing but turn you off men in general. I think there are some characters that could be worked on, but it was a decent story. You think it’s going to be the typical young girl, affair, murder… it isn’t. The mystery is buried in Maggie.

Available Now

Little A

 

 

A Spark of Light: A Novel by Jodi Picoult

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“What about the mother’s right?”

The pro-life, pro-choice debate is older than me, and has been widely tackled it seems, by every living person who has an opinion, most especially politicians. It’s a topic every woman has confronted, or will, at some point in their lives. If you can’t handle the conversation, this book is not for you. Moving along…. A gunman, George Goodard, has taken hostages at a woman’s clinic where abortions are performed. He is hellbent on exacting revenge for what was taken from his daughter, despite the fact she herself doesn’t quite realize the scope of what she’s done yet. That’s his feeling anyway, and this is about his feelings! Behind the doors of the clinic are characters present for a myriad of reasons. George is too deep in it already, too late to turn back now, he must make an example! Do you blame the medical staff, punish the women who chose to terminate, what about the others (young and old) there for birth control or routine reasons? Do your beliefs have a right to bleed into the decisions of others? What if a mother’s life is at risk, is it okay then to terminate? What if it’s a young girl, say your daughter, a victim of rape? Should she be forced to carry said child? Take it further, what if it’s a case of incest? We don’t like to ponder these things, but imagine you are that 12 year old girl, and you don’t have the luxury of hypotheticals, are you moved to accept an abortion is justifiable now?  There is a flip side too, after all we’ve each been born, no one aborted us, and because we weren’t terminated we can chew on this loaded topic. Adamant that we have a voice, we can shout our points of view while defending the right to silence future voices. Each side can be debated endlessly, though I think about the dangers of laws putting restrictions our bodies. Education is key, there are medical reasons for abortion, which generally seems to be more accepted or ‘justifiable’. Desperate women (mind you this includes very young girls) will go to any lengths to end pregnancy and if there isn’t a doctor willing to safely care for them, we know what can happen. Mention this and you’ll often hear, ‘well then they deserve it, just proof isn’t it, that they are reaping what the sow’. Nothing I am saying here is new nor hasn’t been said before and heatedly, I mention it because of the character in this novel, Doctor Louie. Dr. Louie, though a practicing Catholic,  went into this controversial work because sending women elsewhere for help with such issues, he learned early on that ‘14 percent of doctors performed abortions themselves’  leading to women searching for other means, often unsafe abortions. As a doctor that, in and of itself, is a moral conundrum. Where do you place your religious beliefs when you know not acting can cost someone their lives? Must we lose both mother and child to incompetence, refuse help from a moral high ground that goes against his oath as a doctor?

Does he deserve a bullet from George’s gun? Does anyone? Is there not hypocrisy in being willing to kill when you are defending your position that others don’t kill unborn children? It’s a loop, we were all born, we were all once unborn. What about the pregnant women that have not yet had abortions, or may not be there for one? What if there are health risks to the mother, does she get a reprieve? Or must both she and the unborn child die to earn respect? It’s easy to think in black and white when you don’t have to know the full story, when you don’t humanize those you disagree with and that seems to be the theme. Jodi Picoult certainly shares the legal dilemmas here, and obviously feels passionately about the right for a woman to have choices. There isn’t an answer that fits each person perfectly. Take poverty, what if you can’t afford a child should you still have the baby? This is often met with the old ‘there’s always adoption’, which is true but that isn’t an easy decision either. You will often hear the retort ‘well, if you can’t afford it, why are you getting pregnant?” People always have the answer for the way others should live. Tackle this subject in any room and there will be heated debates in no time.

Picoult uses Hugh (the hostage negotiator) and his daughter Wren as well as his sister Bex (hostages)  to make the story deeply personal. A stellar single father, the three of them separately think about their bond and how lucky they are. Wren never regretting that it’s her father who stepped up to parent, while her mother makes ‘appearances’ and Hugh, whose daughter is his ‘universe ‘ unable to contemplate life without her, nor what lies in the delicate balance. He cannot fail. Is she there for an abortion? If so, can he relate to George’s fury?  It doesn’t matter, the stakes are far higher than he could ever have imagined. Bex is terrified, feels it is punishment for ‘going behind Hugh’s back’ to help Wren, it cannot end like this, even if by some twist she feels she deserves it. Hugh would never recover if he lost his daughter, and what of Wren and all the first moments she’ll never have?

Janine believes in the ‘sanctity of life’, does that maybe give her leeway, make George see her as on his ‘side.’ Olive is a retired professor, hoping just to survive this ordeal while chewing on ideas, hoping they can come together with a plan and tries to keep her wits. Izzy is a nurse, who knows what is means to grow up with nothing, who can ‘smell freedom’ but choses to do what is right for the others. A tough upbringing has made her resourceful, hopefully it’s enough to survive this, to help the others. Wouldn’t it just figure if she never gets the chance to be all in with her beloved Parker, to stop feeling inferior to his upbringing, wouldn’t it just figure if it all ended here, like this?

The characters weren’t that difficult to keep separate, each has their stories, emotional states coming into the clinic. All react differently because of who they are. Some are pro-life, some pro-choice. One exchange between Dr. Louie and Izzy says a lot about this issue. She says Louie may be the biggest feminist she has ever met, he claims to love all women, Izzy questioning him with her eyes on Janine sprawled on the floor he tells her ” And you should too”  because ” like it or not you’re in this fight together.” It’s a big response, in this fight for their lives as hostages, as much as a fight as women, for ownership of our bodies,  how the laws can change our freedom to decide for ourselves what’s right. But first, we have to find out if they will survive George.

Imagine book club night after reading this novel. It’s good, I have other books by Picoult I prefer but A Spark of Life is going to be widely read and discussed. It will be a different experience for every reader, and while it may be a woman’s issue, there is no reason why men shouldn’t take part.

Publication date: October 2, 2018  Out Tomorrow

Random House

Ballantine

 

You Were Always Mine: A Novel by Nicole Baart

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Evan wasn’t dead. Jess knew that. She knew it deep down in a place where she believed there was still a connection between herself and the man she had once called her home.

A busy school day morning, much like any other, is disrupted when Jess receives a phone call from a man named Deputy Mike Mullen near Minneapolis. There has been an accident, a middle-aged man is dead, but there is no way it could be her husband Evan. Recently separated,  but trying to work on their problems, she’d certainly know if he had traveled out of Iowa. The body has no identification, it doesn’t sound like him, his hair wasn’t gray! Why was her phone number in the victim’s pocket? This is the first mystery that will close around she and her children, her adoptive son Gabe in particular.

Dr. Evan Chamberlain’s abilities to provide for his family has never come into question nor his fierce dedication and passion to his practice. All his hard work has left little time for Jess and the children, consumed by his job she has felt their love receding. Separated, divorce looms but neither seems to be urgent to make final decisions.  She could never get enough of him, always wondered with wounded pride if he felt the deep love for her that she felt for him. With his distance, constant distraction, forgetting important meaningful dates, cooled passions, doubt crept in. Now this. When Evan doesn’t show up to pick the children up, nor answer her calls she has to face there might be more to this dead stranger, and her husband could be involved.

A closed adoption brought Gabe into the couple’s life, it suited her needs to be the only mother he would ever know.  After the call, and what follows, a break in occurs at her home, related to the incident. Betrayal rises to the surface when she discovers Evan has been in intimate  contact for years with Gabe’s birth mother.  It is the least of his secrets, and his involvement in something sinister is going to unravel the secure life she has been living with her sons. Just who is this woman, how had Evan allowed her to worm her way in? What does this mean for Gabe? Though blessed to have a biological elder son Max, it doesn’t make Gabe any less hers that she isn’t his birth mother. Why did Evan feel the need to communicate with this woman? Wasn’t she enough? What was between them, really?

What her husband was involved in is bigger than their family and someone will stop at nothing to make sure they aren’t exposed. It isn’t just the intimate letters to Gabe’s mother, there are notes (maybe clues) written on a business card, maybe answers to what Evan was up to before tragedy struck. He wasn’t a man who hid things, it was against his nature to deceive, it is a burning mystery. So why then the sudden subterfuge? Why was he staying at a motel, there are other strange tidbits, shaky connections that don’t add up, only lead to more questions. Then a file is found full of names… codes. One, according to Deputy Mullen means ‘prostitution’, a strange thing to be among Evan’s personal effects. But names, and criminal codes aren’t answers either, just another thing to add to Evan’s peculiar behavior.

Her dear friend Meredith was the social worker involved in their adoption of Gabe, now an honorary Auntie and a major support for Jess. Lately, Meredith has doubts about Jess and her parenting.  All she cares about is seeing Gabe properly cared for, even if speaking out will hurt their friendship. Now Jess is being accused of things that could threaten her hold on her children. Why would someone want to do that? Could it all tie into whatever Evan was working on? How is all of this connected to Gabe’s adoption?

This is a hard review to write when one must tread lightly on giving away the plot twists. It’s about birth mothers, those who manipulate women without choices, the good intentions that can sour clear thinking and the passion to right grievous wrongs even at the very risk of your own life.  It’s a psychological mystery about the underbelly of adoption. It’s about being so consumned by something you know is wrong, that those who need you desperately become impossible to see.

Not every reader will like Jessica, but her fierce devotion to her adoptive son and comfort in a closed adoption can be understood as fear is a great motivator. The threat of another woman, always looming somewhere out there makes such adoptions ideal, as much as said biological mother may not wish to be found. Maybe it’s easier for people, like social worker Meredith, to imagine those mothers as abusive, cold creatures, unfit women so they can swoop in and save the precious little ones. What if the narrative is wrong? What if in desperation people are urged to act against their wishes, until it is too late. What happens when those working the system abuse it? Should you remain blind if you yourself benefited?

Publication Date: October 16, 2018

Atria Books

Wildchilds by Eugenia Melian

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“That’s the business, Iris.  It’s a ruthless industry.  People’s love lasts but one season.”

In a novel that is fiction meets memoir, Eugenia Melian (who has worked in the industry as model, agent, producer, and music supervisor in Milan, Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles) tells the story of former top model in Paris, Iris, who has to make the choice to extract herself from her greatest love, Gus and the industry itself. We meet her present day living in La Arboleda on a ranch in Northern California, a far cry from the thrills and noise of the city. Single motherhood has fit her well, raising Lou all on her own after tragedy, a teen girl who looks and carries herself as gracefully as Iris, her life feels full enough. Maybe she doesn’t quite fit in with all the moms walking around in their yoga pants, but this is the calm her soul thrives on. The past eleven years, this has been paradise, peaceful, quiet until shocking news comes screaming that Gus, the father Lou has never met, the famous art and fashion photographer Iris once was muse and lover of, has died! She hadn’t even known he was sick!

Long ago, escaping that life, that admittedly was thrilling, fulfilling for a while she never imagined normal wouldn’t be so easy to attain. Loss after loss followed, and here now Lou blames her mother for ‘never marrying my father’, blames the man who never bothered to know his girl so how is she expected to feel anything, she doesn’t know him!, Worse still, how is she to come to terms with knowing she will never know her father Gus now? Isn’t fury a normal reaction? In fact, Lou badgers her, wanting to know why she won’t go back into modeling, who is dumb enough to give up fame, money, admiration of men, Paris, New York?  Iris is too scared to reveal the real reasons, the dark side of that high life. Settles instead telling her there are dangers in modeling. Making matters worse, Gus has left his photographic estate to Lou, and Iris is the executor. Being forced back into the chaos of Gus isn’t what she wants, memories of her childhood with her successful, often distant French mother consuming her as much as the abuses of her past, when she was so young and beautiful, a hot star on the rise. The drugs, the parties, the transgressions, but too there are memories of the intense bond, the passion between she and Gus. It had been amazing, for a time, where their love seemed ‘invincible’ until it soured, things moved too fast, she had to jump off that wild ride to survive, afraid of becoming something shameful.

Gus spent his entire life running away, towards something that was never enough, that took him further from Iris and Lou. But he was there in the beginning, for the rise of Iris as much a big part of her fall. Fellow models weren’t living with the easy luck, the shine that Iris was, the stark reality being girls disappeared, people took advantage, beauty wasn’t a deterrent to brutality, to the gritty streets. Beauty doesn’t keep you safe, in fact it seems to cry out for defilement. Money can be poisonous too. Power often leads to bottomless appetites, where better to feast than in the glamour and glitter of the modeling world?  Young girls and boys eager as a puppy to be something, someone, willing to do anything, and if not… so much the better.

Now a dangerous enemy has Iris in their sights. In order to give Lou everything Gus intended, the only real thing she will ever have of her father, Iris has to meet his conditions and retrieve the missing collection in Paris. If that’s not bad enough, she is being threatened with photos by a tabloid, a shameful past that haunts her. No longer the ingénue, it could well be that she has been underestimated, and it is time to confront the past, and strike back. No more can she allow anyone to take power away from her, not when she has her own beloved daughter to protect! It is through her love of Lou that she finds immeasurable strength to stop being a victim!

With the headlines of today, it’s not so shocking (isn’t that sad) that people abuse the young, knowing people will do anything for fame and those who won’t can be forced, manipulated by any means and those in power always have means, be sure of that. Iris was a natural, really good at what she did, loved it but couldn’t, wouldn’t accept the underbelly and more often than not that is the choice. Her own mother’s career, betrayals she stomached, sacrifices she made even hurting her own family, all the fair weather friends is ‘just the way the business goes’, life’s a jungle and it often comes to nothing, in the end. People (men and women) don’t talk about the things that happen to them in such industries, those in control know how to blackmail, you shut your mouth and take it if you hope to remain on top, or you leave quietly if you want to survive at all.

The images may be beautiful, but the reality isn’t a dream for most.

Publication Date: Out Tomorrow September 20, 2018

Fashion Sphinx Books

How We Remember by J.M. Monaco

 

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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

 

The Golden State: A Novel by Lydia Kiesling

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“This is my house, ” I say aloud, and everything in the house contradicts me, down to its dubious foundation.

It is to this house in the desert of Altavista with her baby girl Honey that Daphne flees, leaving behind her work at the University of San Francisco, a student who has never quite finished her PhD despite encouragement from those around her because “working at the institute has amply illustrated the precarious sh*tshow that is a life of the mind”. She is a single mother for all intents and purposes as her Turkish husband, Engin is trapped by a ‘processing error’ and cannot return to the United States of America. The novel follows Daphne and Honey through the desolation their lives have become in Engin’s absence. Single despite the occasional Skype with Honey’s daddy, a tiresome thing, Skype when her life is already consumed by meeting her child’s needs and demands.  A desert seems a fitting place, because this is a sort of desert period for Daphne. The house is her grandparent’s mobile home, her mother is dead and it’s hers now. Her family had lived there for a long time, settled and rooted but this life doesn’t fit her.

You can’t expect a lot of dialogue between a baby and her mother and yet Kiesling manages to make Honey a solid person, whether she is cranky and whiney or like on Day 5 kissing her mommy’s face awake. That’s how we bond though, without words and there is a beautiful intimacy in it. It gets boring at times, and you feel as bogged down as she does but at least the baby is always real, present unlike so many stories where children are unnaturally silent the entire novel. I dont’ think such children exist in reality. Right now, ‘conversations are work’ and Daphne seems to both welcome and hate this self-imposed exile. She thinks Ellery and Maryam, having met their doom and compares the young women to her own very much alive child. But it’s a thought she doesn’t like to feed on, and in some strange way may shoulder a bit of blame for, or maybe not, can you bear the blame of fate’s whims? She should be opening emails, dealing with whatever mess she has jumped ship from back at the university, but she cannot find the wherewithal do it. She is in a sort of strange in-between time so many mother’s are familiar with after the birth of a child. Daphne plus one.

She meets the locals, and explains she works for an institute that studies Islamic studies which naturally begs the question, “Like Isis?” Daphne studies the language, and how countries share an islamic past. Bring up Muslim and hackles raise with a cry of Isis, which is often a shamefully believeable reaction in our country. She absolutely defends her husband and all the Muslims who don’t go around ‘blowing people up’ and plotting terrorism, yet this also isn’t the point of the novel. Despite this, she and Cindy become friends of sorts, even though she doesn’t agree with her ‘ideology.’ The biggest group of people are ‘State of Jeffersoners’, not the sort of group her husband Engin (if he ever returns to her) will be able to tolerate. The possibility of a life where her family’s people have been since the 1800’s just may not be a viable option for her. She gets caught up, somewhat, in the secessionists who don’t want to deal with ‘urban problems’. Generations of people who feel the government is robbing them of the resources they’ve always had to themselves. She meets an old ‘auntie-type’ Alice, who has been to Turkey and serves as a sort of stand in grandma, support she surely lacks with Engin scattered to the wind and the rest of her family dead. A woman who has had much loss and sadness of her own, that far surpasses anything Daphne is struggling with. They take up together on a trip and everything goes sour, this is the climactic moment in an otherwise quiet story.

The story touched on xenophobia here and there, but not as much as you would expect. I was disappointed that Engin was as absent for me as he seems to be for Honey and Daphne. I wondered if some bone thrown my way about their love would have made me care more. Engin aside, I enjoyed the tender moments as much as the exasperating ones between Daphne and Honey. The writing is beautiful but the story did drag often and I usually enjoy being a visitor in a character’s mind. Sometimes I felt as exhausted as Daphne. Good but nothing much happens until the very end.

Publication Date: September 4, 2018

Farrar, Straus and Giroux