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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Review of WOMEN TALKING by Miriam Toews

4.5 Stars 
About a decade ago, over 100 women in an ultraconservative Mennonite colony in Bolivia were secretly sedated and raped by male members of their community.  Some attributed the attacks to ghosts and demons; some argued the women were being punished by God for their sins; and others said that the women, with their wild, female imaginations, invented stories.  Miriam Toews used this event and her imagination to craft this novel from the perspective of women in such a colony, a novel that is heartbreaking but also uplifting. 

Eight women gather secretly in a hayloft after eight men have been arrested for the assaults.  The men will be out on bail and returning to the community in two days so the women have a short time to decide how to move forward:  do nothing, stay and fight, or leave.  What follows is a Socratic dialogue in which the women debate how to proceed and touch on subjects like faith, forgiveness, and love.  There is no evidence of female hysteria; the women debate using logic. 

The narrator is August Epp who was asked by the women to record the minutes of their meeting “because the women are illiterate and unable to do it themselves” (1).  The women speak only Plautdietsch, “an unwritten medieval language” (8) so he must also serve as their translator.  August is the community’s teacher, though he and his family were once excommunicated so he spent years living in the outside world.  He is the most educated man in the colony but is considered effeminate and ineffectual by many community members because he has no farming skills.  In some ways, his position in the colony is like that of the women who are useful but lack independent voice and agency. 

The novel is light in plot but heavy in substance; one of the women even says, “’there’s no plot, we’re only women talking’” (179).  That word “only” perfectly reflects the attitude of many of the men who see women as inferior beings who endlessly engage in meaningless chatter.   Of course, their talking is anything but that.  Though they shy away from words like revolutionary and manifesto, that is precisely what they are composing.  One of the women summarizes the principles most important to them:  “As I understand it, what we women have determined is that we want, and believe we are entitled to, three things. . . . We want our children to be safe. . . . We want to be steadfast in our faith.  We want to think” (153). 

The women’s choices are curtailed by the type of lives they have led and by their religion.  They are uneducated and know almost nothing of the world outside the Molotschna Colony.  One of the women lists the obstacles:  “We girls and women are considering leaving the colony, but has it been determined among us what we will do, how we will live, how we will support ourselves, when and if we leave?  We’re unable to read, we’re unable to write, we’re unable to speak the language of our country, we have only domestic skills that may or may not be required of us elsewhere in the world, and speaking of the world – we have no world map –“ (80).  Even if they could find a map, how could they read it?  They have also been told that they must forgive the men or they will be denied entry into heaven.  If they leave, they are disobeying their husbands and such obedience is a major tenet of their faith.  If they stay and fight, they would also not be allowed into heaven:  “By staying in Molotschna . . . we women would be betraying the central tenet of the Mennonite faith, which is pacifism, because by staying we would knowingly be placing ourselves in a direct collision course with violence, perpetrated by us or against us.  We would be inviting harm. . . . We would be sinners, according to our faith, and we would be denied entry to heaven” (103 – 104). 

The novel examines the plight of women in patriarchal, authoritarian societies.  One woman points out that women are not real members of the colony:  “We’re not members!  . . . We are the women of Molotschna.  The entire colony of Molotschna is built on the foundation of patriarchy . . . where the women live out their days as mute, submissive and obedient servants.  Animals.  Fourteen-year-old boys are expected to give us orders, to determine our fates, to vote on our excommunication, to speak at the burials of our own babies while we remain silent, to interpret the Bible for us, to lead us in worship, to punish us!  We are not members, . . . we are commodities. . . . When our men have used us up so that we look sixty when we’re thirty and our wombs have literally dropped out of our bodies onto our spotless kitchen floors, finished, they turn to our daughters.  And if they could sell us at auction afterwards they would” (120 – 121). 

Though there are eight women and it is initially difficult to remember who is who, gradually distinct personalities emerge.  As the women reclaim their independent thought and find their voices, the portrait of each woman becomes clearer.  Salome, for example, is the hot-tempered, impatient one.  The development of the two youngest, sixteen-year-old Autje and Neitje, is interesting.  At the beginning, they are bored and pay no attention but gradually become interested, contribute to the discussion, and even undertake independent action. 

The novel does not focus on what happened to the women but there are occasional glimpses which are horrifying:  Miep “was violated by the men on two or possibly three different occasions, but Peters [the bishop of Molotschna] denied medical treatment for Miep, who is three years of age, on the grounds that the doctor would gossip about the colony and that people would become aware of the attacks and the whole incident would be blown out of proportion” (41).  Then there’s the case of Nettie who “was attacked , possibly by her brother, and gave birth prematurely to a baby boy so tiny he fit into her shoe.  He died hours after being born and Nettie smeared her bedroom walls with blood.  She has stopped talking, except to the children of the colony, . . . [and has] changed her name to Melvin . . . because she no longer wants to be a woman” (45 – 46). 

Considering the seriousness of the discussion, humour might not be expected, but there are some humourous sections.  Salome has a number of heated exchanges with Mariche about precision in word usage:  “Mariche shakes her head at this, indignant.  She apologizes sarcastically for using the incorrect word, a sin so outrageous that Salome with her Olympian airs and almighty mind must take it upon herself to rectify for the sake of humanity” (41).  And some of the observations made cannot but bring a smile; for instance, Salome says, “by leaving, we are not necessarily disobeying the men according to the Bible, because we, the women, do not know exactly what is in the Bible, being unable to read it.  Furthermore, the only reason why we feel we need to submit to our husbands is because our husbands have told us that the Bible decrees it” (157).

This novel is a must-read.  Because of its subject matter, it invites comparison to The Handmaid’s Tale.  It also invites a re-reading.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Review of EDUCATED by Tara Westover

3.5 Stars
I do not often read memoirs but this one kept being mentioned by people as a must-read.

Tara is the youngest child of fundamentalist Mormon survivalists in Idaho.  Her father, whose word was law in the household, mistrusted formal education and western medicine and stockpiled food, fuel and guns in preparation for the Days of Abomination.  Her mother, a homeopathic healer and midwife, did little to ameliorate her husband’s tyrannical rule and the sadistic attacks of an elder child; in her subservience to her husband, she was complicit in what happened in the home. 

Though she never attended school, Tara managed to get herself into Brigham Young University.  As she studied to overcome her very limited knowledge of the outside world, she struggled to form her identity outside the shadow of her family and upbringing.  Eventually she achieved extraordinary academic success at some of the world’s most prestigious educational institutions, but her desire to break free from her family’s limiting influences had a high cost. 

Parts of the book are harrowing.  Gene Westover had an almost total disregard for his family’s safety.  As the children worked in his scrapyard, they suffered terrible accidents which could have been prevented and then were denied proper medical treatment because Gene believed that “Everything that happened to our family, every injury, every near death, was because we had been chosen, we were special.  God had orchestrated all of it so we could denounce the Medical Establishment and testify of His power.”  Tara was subjected to physical attacks and emotional abuse by an older brother yet she was accused of lying about what happened.  But it is the mother’s betrayal of her daughter that struck me as most horrific. 

I found Tara’s struggle to create her own identity apart from her family to be very interesting.  As a child, she learned that “My future was motherhood” so she came to think of her dreams for something more as aberrations:  “my yearning was unnatural.”  Eventually, she admitted that “My life was narrated for me by others.  Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute.  It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”  She then sought to have positive liberty, “to take control of one’s mind; to be liberated from irrational fears and beliefs, from addictions, superstitions.”  In the end, she describes herself as a changed person, a new self:  “You could call this selfhood many things.  Transformation.  Metamorphosis.  Falsity.  Betrayal.  I call it an education.” 

I was amazed at Tara’s willingness to forgive her parents and some of her siblings.  Were I faced with such betrayals, I’d be much less understanding.  Her love for her family is obvious and she seems to still hope for reconciliation with the estranged family members.   

An aspect that troubled me is the father’s seeming willingness to adapt beliefs to suit his purposes.  Though he continued to rail against education and medicine, he changed some of his other views.  He didn’t want a phone but allowed one when his wife needed one for her midwifery duties.  He didn’t object when she started experimenting with other methods of healing, like “energy work” which involved “diagrams of chakras and pressure points.”  These didn’t clash with Mormon doctrine? 

I understand why this book has such positive reviews.  It tells an inspiring story of a remarkable young woman.  And it offers hope to others who find themselves in restricted situations.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Review of THE MARS ROOM by Rachel Kushner

3.5 Stars 
I kept coming across this title on lists of recommended reads and then found it on the longlist for the 2018 Booker Prize, so I opted to read it though I’m not a fan of Orange is the New Black or prison novels in general.

Set in a women’s correctional facility in central California, the book focuses on one of the inmates, Romy Hall, who is serving two consecutive life sentences for killing a man who stalked her.  Through flashbacks, we learn about her neglectful childhood, the sexual and physical abuse she suffered, her job as a sex worker, and her drug addiction.  We also meet some of her fellow inmates:  a woman who killed her own child, a wisecracking trans woman, a former panty hose model on death row.  Two male characters receive some attention:  Gordon Hauser, a teacher who takes an interest in Romy, and Doc, a sociopathic “dirty cop”. 

There is no traditional plot.  The book is a series of vignettes which shift in focus and point of view to tell the stories of various women:  their early lives and their lives in prison.  The realities of life in prison include punitive rules, inedible food, squabbles between cliques, and unrelenting boredom.  Everyone engages in smuggling and manipulation to try and make life more bearable. 

The author emphasizes that socioeconomic factors directly affect the probability of incarceration.  Each of the women had limited options from birth and almost all were victims of poverty, rape, abuse, and exploitation; Gordon realizes that a person born in poor districts “might be trained from birth practically to represent your block, your gang, to rep hard, to have pride, to be hard.  Maybe you had a lot of siblings to watch and possibly you knew almost nobody who had finished school, or worked a stable job.  People from your family were in prison, whole swaths of your community, and it was part of life to eventually go there.  So, you were born fucked.”   Romy makes much the same point addressing the reader directly:  “You would not have been wandering lost at midnight at age eleven.  You would have been safe and dry and asleep, at home with your mother and your father who cared about you and had rules, curfews, expectations.  Everything for you would have been different.  But if you were me, you would have done what I did.”  The women committed crimes of violence but Gordon points out that “there were more abstract forms [of violence], depriving people of jobs, safe housing, adequate schools.” 

Once arrested, the women become victims of the justice system.  Incompetent and overworked public defenders fail them.  In Romy’s case, for example, the extenuating circumstances of her crime are never mentioned in court.  Once in prison, they are provided counselors:  “Counselor doesn’t mean someone who counsels.  Your prison counselor determines your security classification and when and if you get mainlined to general population.  Your counselor keeps tabs on you and reports to the parole board, if you are headed for parole.”    Romy’s counselor doesn’t help her find out what has happened to her son; instead, she says “’Ms. Hall, I know it’s tough, but your situation is due one hundred percent to choices you made and actions you took.’”  What purpose does learning “excellent on-the job training skills, which would translate into employment upon release” have when a prisoner has no release date?  And serving long-term sentences seems useless, as Gordon observes:  “Gordon could not see that making them suffer lifelong would accrue to justice.  It added new harm to old.” 

The book is not really an enjoyable read.  It tends to be unfailingly bleak since the women had few choices early in their lives and now have little hope.  The disjointed structure makes it difficult to connect with the characters though surely the author wants the reader to do so since her point is that though their existence is such that one may think of them as aliens on Mars, the women are very much products of our world.  The didactic tone is also annoying; Gordon, for instance, often seems not much more than a mouthpiece for the author. 

The book is a strong indictment of the American justice and penal systems and of society as a whole.  It is not, however, worthy of the Booker Prize for fiction because it often reads more like a work of non-fiction.  Apparently, the author did extensive research for the book and it shows, but I prefer my novels to be both thought-provoking and entertaining. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Review of GONE WITHOUT A TRACE by Mary Torjussen

2 Stars
One evening Hannah Monroe returns to her home in Liverpool to discover that her live-in boyfriend, Matt Stone, has left with all his possessions.  There is no record of his presence in her life; photos, emails and all social media have been erased.  Devastated, Hannah is determined to find Matt.  Then she starts receiving cryptic messages and she begins to suspect that someone has been in her home. 

Hannah is a difficult person to like.  At the beginning, I had sympathy for her but as she becomes more and more obsessed with finding Matt, I became impatient with her.  She comes across as immature and self-absorbed.  She always sees herself as the victim, even blaming a friend for dying in such a way that she has bad memories:  “What had she done to me, leaving me with that memory of her?”  Her behaviour is unrealistic as well.  At the beginning, she is so focused on her career but then she sacrifices that career, friendships, and hygiene just to find someone who obviously does not want to be found?

There is a Gone Girl twist which, unfortunately, doesn’t work.  After the great reveal, the reader should want to re-read the first part of the novel to see what he/she missed.  I felt no such compulsion because it is obvious that the author cheated by withholding too much information.  The one positive thing about the twist is that it touches on a subject seldom discussed in reality, much less in fiction.  I just wish that it had been portrayed more realistically.

The premise is interesting, but the execution is weak.  My interest was piqued but then the pace became so slow that my interest lagged.  So much attention is paid to the steps Hannah takes, every little step she takes in her search.  The reader suspects that something is wrong and may even form theories as to the truth but ceases to care when Hannah proves to be such a drama queen and when so much time is spent on her shallow, competitive relationship with her best friend Katie.  The pace around the reveal picks up but then the book drags again as the author takes great pains to explain everything.  On the other hand, what should have been portrayed in more detail (Hannah’s relationship with her parents) is glossed over. 

The editor of this book did not do a good job.  If the novel had been better structured, it would have maintained the reader’s interest and shed light on a topic that deserves more attention.  As is, this book will leave my memory without a trace.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Review of UP FROM FREEDOM by Wayne Grady (New Release)

4 Stars 
Virgil Moody “vowed he would never own slaves, never be like his father” but when he left home “he’d taken Annie [a house slave] from his father’s plantation.”  Moody discovered that Annie was pregnant but he comes to think of her and her son Lucas as his family.  This family is broken apart when Lucas falls in love with a slave belonging to their neighbour and flees with her.  Virgil sets out to find him, enroute encountering people with differing attitudes to slavery.  Eventually, he finds himself in Freedom, Indiana, where he meets Tamsey and her family who are trying to escape the reach of the Fugitive Slave Act.

Though Virgil is searching for Lucas, his journey is very much a journey of self-discovery.   At the beginning he fails to understand that his actions make him complicit in slavery.  He claims to abhor slavery, but he fights on the side of Texas in the Mexican-American War knowing that “Texans were fighting for slavery.”  He convinces himself that he saved Annie from his father’s cruelty but he never asked her if she wanted to come with him.  He claims that he knows Annie stayed with him because she wanted to “’because she didn’t leave’.”  Virgil thinks “of Annie as his wife and Lucas as their son” but “Annie hadn’t been as comfortable with that as he was [because] the consequences for her were far greater than they were for him.”  Virgil tells Lucas, “’I always raised you like a son’” but Lucas points out, “’Did you?  Wouldn’t you have sent your son to school?’”  At one point, Annie asks Virgil to talk to Lucas but Virgil replies, “’He’s your son’” and she responds with “’But he your slave!’”  And Virgil never actually frees them! 

Gradually, Virgil comes to realize that he could have done more.  When Annie and Lucas have to stay in steerage, “suffocated below on straw mats and were fed gruel,” aboard a steamer while he “slept comfortably in his cabin, on clean sheets and in fresh air,” he counts himself “virtuous for having noticed [Annie’s] anger, thinking she would appreciate the difference between his concern and the other passengers’ lack of it.  Annie and Lucas were more to him than slaves:  wasn’t he a fine chap? . . . But what could he have done?  More.”   Virgil comes to see his selfishness, to see that he had blindly assumed “that doing what was good for him was good for everyone else concerned.”  He admits “He was only generous when it suited him.  He transported fugitives only because he thought they might help him find Lucas.  And he didn’t even want to find Lucas for Lucas’s sake, but for his own.  For forgiveness.” 

It is Tamsey who forces Virgil “to admit to himself what he was.  A white man in a world that was increasingly determined by the consequences of slavery.  It was time for him to stop acting surprised and indignant whenever anyone suggested to him that the reason he hadn’t freed Annie or Lucas was that he had liked it that their relationship was based on ownership, that that was the way he’d been raised, and, hate it though he professed he did, it was the relationship he understood and felt most comfortable with.”  Then, when given an opportunity, he sets out to redeem himself.

The concept of freedom is examined in the novel.  Virgil tells Lucas, “’You [and your mother] always been free here” but obviously Anne and Lucas don’t feel that way.  A man Virgil encounters tells him “’our Northern states are proud of the fact that their constitutions do not allow slavery.  No, the workers on these industrious projects are free blacks – a designation that usually signifies a man is free from slavery, but that here has come to mean also a man who works for free.  Or for wages so low that he can’t afford to do anything about his situation.”  Even freed slaves with “free papers” fear fugitive catchers, especially with the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act:  “’I show our papers to catchers, you think they leave us alone?’”  And Virgil can never be truly free of his past.
Set between May 1848 and November 1850, the novel examines racial turmoil in the United States at that time, a turmoil that erupted in the American Civil War a decade later.  But the novel is relevant to today.  Virgil’s father taught him that “’Nothing is forgiven . . . Some things are forgotten, but damn few.  And nothing is every forgiven’” and Virgil realizes that “his father had been right, that forgiveness meant wiping the record clean and that could never happen.”  Slavery cannot be wiped clean and so not truly forgiven but perhaps, as one character says, “’It not too late to seek a better world’”? 

There is a trial towards the end of the novel that has a twist I never expected but is apparently based on an actual case involving the author’s great-great-grandparents.  It emphasizes that the terms “black” and “white” are in many ways meaningless and only labels which can be used/misused to serve one’s purposes.  Can any of us really call ourselves one or the other?

This is an excellent novel which I highly recommend.  It has a compelling plot and a complex character who learns much about the world and himself.  The book will leave readers asking questions about their own behaviour. 

Note:  I received a digital galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Review of THE BOOKSHOP OF YESTERDAYS by Amy Meyerson

2.5 Stars
I’m a sucker for novels about books and bookstores so when I chanced upon this one, I couldn’t resist.  Unfortunately, my money was not particularly well-spent.

When she was young, Miranda was close to her only uncle, Billy Brooks, a man who created riddles to send her on scavenger hunts.  When Billy and Miranda’s mother had a falling-out, Miranda lost contact with him.  Sixteen years later, she receives word that he has died and left her his bookstore, Prospero Books.  He also left her a literary clue which takes her on one last scavenger hunt; this one leads her to people from Billy’s past and to hidden family secrets. 

The plot is so predictable.  Early on, Miranda’s mother makes a loaded comment:  “’Loving something and being responsible for it are two very different things’” (67).  Two pages later, we learn that she was named for a character from The Tempest, the favourite play of her mother’s best friend (69).  Who names a daughter after a friend’s favourite drama?!  From that point on, I knew what Miranda would learn.  This predictability means that the scavenger hunt goes on for much too long.  The outcome of the romance plot is also totally foreseeable. 

The clues in the form of quotations from and allusions to a variety of literature (The Tempest, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Jane Eyre, The Grapes of Wrath) are obscure and lead to an elaborate, convoluted quest which seems largely unnecessary.  Why wouldn’t Billy have written a letter explaining everything?

Characterization is not a strong element in the novel.  Miranda is not a likeable character.  She is so self-absorbed that she creates unnecessary drama.  If people don’t give her what she wants, she lashes out – as if she were a teenager rather than a 28-year-old woman who should be able to take into account other people’s feelings.  She is irate when people aren’t open with her, yet she shuts out her boyfriend?  

The bookshop is failing and Miranda keeps expressing concern about its future.  She supposedly wants to revive it but she takes little constructive action. What she actually does in the shop is unclear and obviously her contribution is minimal since she flits in and out on a whim.  She cares more about the scavenger hunt than the bookstore and the effects of its closing on the employees. 

Of course, she is not the only self-centred character.  Miranda’s mother was jealous and insecure when Billy had a relationship with her best friend?  And this same woman doesn’t even go to her brother’s funeral!  The minor characters are underdeveloped and remain flat.  The bookstore employees, for example, are quirky, but that is all that is really known about them. 

Miranda’s questions are answered; the reader figures them out long before she does.  There are, however, some things that are mentioned and then dropped.  Whatever happened to those emerald earrings if they were so important?  What was in the letter that Elijah sent Miranda (96)? 

If you enjoy a book whose ending you will know after reading less than 20% of it, pick up this book; otherwise, don’t allow yourself to be lured by its title as I was.     

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Review of RUST & STARDUST by T. Greenwood (New Release)

2.5 Stars 
I was unaware that Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was supposedly inspired by a true crime.  In 1948 in Camden, New Jersey, 11-year-old Sally Horner stole a notebook; the theft was an initiation into a girls’ club she wanted desperately to join.  She was spotted by Frank LaSalle, a recently released convict whose rap sheet included statutory rape and enticing a minor.  He posed as an F.B.I. agent who told her she would be arrested if she did not follow his instructions.  He convinced her she must leave with him to Atlantic City.  Thus began her two-year long kidnapping and serial molestation.

In the Author’s Note, T. Greenwood states her purpose in writing Rust & Stardust:  “While I drew heavily on Sally’s heartbreaking story, this novel is ultimately an imagined rendering of the years that she spent on the road with her captor and of the impact of her abduction on those she encountered along the way as well as those she left behind.” 

The perspective of a number of people is given.  The focus is on Sally, Ella (Sally’s mother), Susan (Sally’s sister), and Al (Susan’s husband), but the views of other minor characters, both real and imagined, are also given.  The one person who is not given a voice is Frank. 

The events depicted occurred 60 years ago when the phrase “stranger danger” did not exist.  I understand that young girls would have been much more innocent and naïve, but would they be as naïve as Sally is for so long?  Susan finds some consolation in learning how Frank lured her sister; she feels better knowing Sally must have been terrified:  “Sally wasn’t a fool, only a scared little girl.”  Though Sally is supposedly an intelligent girl with boundless curiosity who excels in school, she believes Frank’s fabrications even as they become more and more ludicrous? 

Ella is an even more problematic character.  It is difficult to have much sympathy for her.  Even in 1948, would a mother send her daughter on a vacation with a man she meets for the first time when her daughter boards a bus with him?  The man is supposedly the father of Sally’s classmate with whom Sally will be vacationing in Atlantic City, but Ella has never met this classmate either.  Susan questions her mother’s judgement:  “She tried to understand how it was that her mother had handed her own child off to this criminal.  She’d walked her to the bus depot, delivered her to him like a gift.  She couldn’t understand how Ella had been so gullible, so stupid.”  When Sally’s letters make no reference to her classmate and only mention activities with the father, shouldn’t Ella start questioning?  Later, Ella even says, “’Sally.  I forgive her for what she done with that man.’”  Her treatment of her daughter once she returns is hard to understand.  Given how consequential her comments to her husband proved to be, one would expect her to be better able to control her tongue.  When Sally expresses a desire to visit the woman responsible for her rescue, Ella says, “’Of course not . . . What’s the matter with you, wantin’ to go back there? . . . You’d think you missed it there.  Living in squalor with that monster.  What’s the matter with you?’”  Of course Ella suffered, but she is the adult and should be more concerned about her daughter’s feelings than her own. 

There are issues with Frank’s behaviour.  At one point, he tells Sally, “’Your daddy killed himself rather than spend a minute more in the house with you and your crippled mama.’”  Frank would have known about the suicide of Sally’s stepfather which had occurred years earlier?  Ruth writes letters to Sally though she suspects they never reach her, “Not if Frank got to them first.  Every day that went by without a response, she became convinced that he was confiscating them.  Hiding them from her.”  Undoubtedly Frank would have read those letters, the content of which should have aroused his suspicions, so why would he believe a later letter from Ruth in which she suggests he and her husband have a job for him in California? 

The book has too much detail.  Thankfully, the scenes of rape are not graphically depicted, but the book is overly long.  There is suspense at the beginning but a pattern develops and the book drags:  Sally meets someone who suspects there is something wrong but is unable or unwilling to help so her situation doesn’t change until she meets someone else who could help her but misses the opportunity to assist, etc.  Several of the fictional characters added (e.g. Sister Mary Katherine and Lena and Doris) seem to have been added solely to create suspense.  Will this person help?  Then there’s the overly dramatic scene where Frank jumps out of the shower just as Sally is trying to use a phone.  He can hear so clearly through a closed door with the shower running and moves so quickly that she still has the handset in her hand? 

Since the author’s purpose is to imagine the impact of Sally’s abduction, why does the novel continue for so long afterwards?  Do we really need to know what happens to minor characters that are figments of the author’s imagination?  And the references to luminous stars in each of the last five chapters are heavy-handed symbolism.

This book tells a heartbreaking story which is often a harrowing read.  The content often left me feeling uncomfortable.  Though the author insists “this is, in the end, a work of fiction,” I felt that in some ways Sally was being exploited yet again.  I am not in favour of censorship, but I wonder why not use Lolita as inspiration and write a novel from the perspective of Dolores Haze and those she encounters?  

Note:  I received a digital galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.