BlogHer has sent me many books to review. I've been disappointed with most of them. Chick-Lit has never been my genre of choice and, perhaps because we are a network of women, the selections from Penguin have all had a decidedly female bent.
Except for The Kid, they ones I've read have had women protagonists. Even then, I could argue that his mother's presence is palpable on every page and that they are, together, the heroes of the story. And The Kid is a story about family and love and acceptance and if those aren't women's themes then I don't know what are.
For the most part, the books have happy endings, though happy is a relative term. There's just enough angst to make them fodder for book clubs; some of them even had questions at the end. They purported to inform me about the quality of relationships and the lessons to be learned from those against whom we lean or bump. There are lessons, and they are about redemption, and everyone feels good at the end. I can handle worse. It's just not on offer.
And then I received Tana French's Faithful Place. You'll have to wait til BlogHer publishes my review in their Book Club, because that's the deal we've struck. But I can tell you here that I loved it and that I learned from it and that not many of those lessons are about redemption. Tolstoy was right; happy families are all alike.... but don't worry, this is not a story about a happy family. There is nothing alike about the Mackey clan.
If they didn't feel so real they'd be caricatures. If the dialog weren't begging to be read aloud the Irish-isms and street slang would be annoyingly disorienting. If I hadn't learned to turn off a part of my soul when I was a practicing social worker I wouldn't believe that Francis's compartmentalization could be so complete. But they were and it was and I had and this book brought it all back to me, going 90 as they say on Faithful Place.
I could tell you the geography and name the inhabitants of the street. I know who lived on the even side and who over-decorated for Christmas. I can smell the night air and I can feel the creepiness. And I can hear the dysfunction, bouncing against the lace curtains. It wasn't exactly my life, but it was close.
That dysfunction , that knot in the belly, that sense of responsibility whose flip side is guilt - it was my family, albeit on a far grosser scale. The feelings were every bit as real, even if the level of abuse was far beyond that which we experienced growing up. But the fragility of being all together in one room.... just typing it gives me a crawling feeling on the back of my neck.
Would Daddooooo decide to tease one of us to the point of tears? Would G'ma decide that she had had enough of whatever she had had enough of? Would my brother be late or would I feel an uncontrollable urge to annoy my little sister just enough so that the lid would fly off the smoldering cauldron which was pretending to be our Friday night dinner?
I used to explain living in California as being as far as I could get from my parents while still being in the continental United States. When I was 40, my dad made me cry 4 times before 11 o'clock one morning. He had no idea why I was sobbing as I put gas in the car. My mother's passive aggressive needling was enough to push the most patient of people over the edge, screaming with delight at being out of her reach at last. 36 years ago right now, the night before our wedding, my future father-in-law solved the problem by turning off his hearing aids and smiling at everyone. I couldn't wait to escape.
Over the decades, most of us have mellowed and pretty much all of us can stand to be in the same room at the same time .... though not for very long, and not when there's anything important to be discussed. I can only imagine the scene if, as happens on Faithful Place, a suitcase and a bag of bones were to turn up.
Isn't that what a good book is supposed to do.... let you take it into your life and make it your own?