Tag Archives: dysfunction junction literature

The Monday Book: NIGHT GARDEN by Carrie Mullins

carrie mullinsI bought this book at the recent Appalachian Studies Association Conference, after a mutual friend introduced me to Carrie and announced it was her publication day. I’m glad I did, as I enjoyed Carrie’s writing. Very descriptive, which is not usually my thing, but the characters are well-drawn, which is.

The protagonist is a teen girl with a dead brother, difficult parents, and a teacher who helps her score substances. So it’s only natural that soon after she should have a boyfriend who edges toward emotionally abusive, and women around her who urge her to understand. The dysfunction here is told in third person but primarily from her point of view as she struggles to believe that Bobo (her boyfriend) loves her, that being pregnant isn’t so bad, that she has a good life. That she can get out.

It’s a story with a lot of detail in how the people live, and a building sense of emotional dread mixed with resignation and strength. You’re not really sure how it’s going to end, and I’m not putting any spoilers in here. If you like Appalachian dysfunction, delicate touches on tough subjects, or descriptive novels, NIGHT GARDEN is for you.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Book: WHERE THE MOON ISN’T by Nathan Filer

moonPart of the fun of the Monday book is how a volume reaches me. We can admit that acquisition sets up expectation –a friend you admire recommends a book, and you track it down. You find an intriguing title in the bargain section of a second-hand shop, and you think, “Nothing to lose.” How you get the book starts you down the path.

So I knew I was in for something good when my editor, Nichole, mailed me this one with the single comment: “This book is very close to my heart.” (She edited the American version.)

Published in the UK as Shock of the Fall, this is a book about mental and physical illness. Matt’s brother, a physically handicapped lad, dies tragically, and it’s pretty much Matt’s accidental fault. Matt loses himself, as does his mom, but they cope and recover in different ways.

Matt’s voice is so clear, his character so well drawn, that I found myself in the happy position of looking forward to bedtime each night, so I could see what happened to the poor kid next.

Nathan Filer’s background as a psychiatric nurse really shows in his writing; he knows whereof he speaks. In fact, the book recently won what used to be called the Whitbread Prize (now Costa) in the UK–which is a BIIIIIIG good thing–and one of the repeated phrases of the judges was how amazingly “sure-footed” the writing is for a first-time novelist.

“Sure-footed” encapsulates what captured me about Moon. You totally believe in Matt as a person, have known people like him, but also get glimpses into what it must be like to realize you have a mental illness, to be self-aware and intelligent about it, and yet still be sick. Brilliant, this book was, at making the strange normal and the normal strange.

Just so you know, Nichole has recommended books to me in the past that I didn’t like, so my glowing review is not because she’s our shared editor. As witness, I present the fuzzy picture at the top of this post. That dark blue book is Where the Moon Isn’t. I took it with me on a recent trip to DC while promoting Little Bookstore (the fuzzy beige book below Moon). See that cat in the suitcase? (Yeah, the fuzzy white thing in the middle.) That’s Owen Meany, named for a book Nichole recommended highly in fairly authoritative terms. I hated A Prayer for Owen Meany, and still do. (Heck, call that a plot?)

So that cat is the only way Owen Meany will ever grace my personal bookshelf, Nichole, but you were right about Moon; it will stay in my heart and mind for a long time.

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The Monday Book: THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTERS by Randy Susan Meyers

daughtersThis book came into the bookstore randomly this past fall, and one night in a lighthearted “what will I read next” ramble, I pulled it from the bookshelf …

… and lost my weekend. Murder’s Daughters is one of those “don’t get up” books where your life partner is going to need to bring you sandwiches. (S/he will if you promise to do the same when it’s his or her turn to read the book.) The plot moves pretty quickly for being as psychology-driven as it is, something I really enjoyed. I like analytical books, but they can drag. This one did not. What’s going to happen next was always on my mind as I carried it into the bathroom, read it at the kitchen table, ignored customers in the bookstore the first time they said hello.

The premise is straightforward: a man loses control and kills his wife, but the only reason he’s able to is that one of his two daughters–a mere child–opens the door for him. Everything else in the dysfunction junction tale that follows stems from that moment. And there are some lovely human psychology moments. How the girls get out of the children’s home they get stuck in –because their blood family doesn’t step up to the plate–is so compelling and so true to humanity that I cried.

The ways in which the two girls so differently handle their subsequent relationship with their father is interesting, but more compelling to me was the depiction of their growing up years in a group home, and how they related to each other by in turns being maternal and manipulative. The girls are well-drawn characters. Great characters drive great plots.

Meyers puts the synopsis of the book well on her website (http://www.randysusanmeyers.com/the-murderers-daughters/): “The Murderer’s Daughters is narrated in turn by Merry and Lulu [the daughters]. The book follows the sisters as children, as young women, and as adults, always asking how far forgiveness can stretch, while exploring sibling loyalty, the aftermath of family violence, and the reality of redemption.”

BTW Meyers has links to buy the book on her site. I know y’all will first explore ordering it from your local bookstore, then if needed buy from her Powell’s link; Powell’s is a cool bookstore with excellent business ethics.

On her website you’ll also find links to her new book, The Comfort of Lies. If the characters are as well-drawn as Merry and Lulu, it will be a great read. Clear a weekend.

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