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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dark Family Drama Refuses to Be Put Down. Or Forgotten.

(Image from Indiebound)

The Slepys may look like an ordinary family, one of the many who spend their summers by the lake in Danish Landing, Michigan, but they've never been average. They've never really fit in. And now, in the long, hot days of 1976, their family ties are unraveling like the threads on a cheap sweater. Dick Slepy, who's got his own sins to atone for, can't help noticing the way his wife retreats further and further into her Greek myths, abandoning reality for the safety of fantasy. Or the way beautiful Mary Grace uses her looks to keep no-good Rocky Rasmussen sniffing around. Then there's selfish, mocking Mary Tessa and pious Mary Catherine, who's starving herself for Jesus. Last of all, little Amaryllis, the child who "sees what can't be seen and smells what can't be smelled and knows what can't be known - who has never seemed quite right, even as she seems the sanest of them all" (77). Like Yliss' all-knowing eyes, the family's dysfunction stares Dick in the face, challenging him to act before the ties that bind the Slepys come undone for good.

Following the advice of his minister, Dick whisks his family off to West Africa. Although he's a pathologist used to dealing with dead patients not live ones, Dick trains as a bush doctor in preparation for operating a clinic in a rural village. With dreams of redemption dancing in his head, he steps into a nightmare of constant need, desperate want, and the ever present specter of death looming over it all. The flagrant lack of every needful thing inspires Dick to labor with a passion he's never felt before, even as it angers his wife and grips his daughters in very different ways. Amaryllis, who's always been different, feels the call of the land most keenly, knowing that she's finally found the answer to the mystery of her otherness. With the vibrant colors, smells, tastes and superstitions of Africa swirling all around them, each of the Slepys must make sense of this new land, this new life, and this fragile, crumbling thing that is their family.

As the scarred hands of Africa enfold each member, the Slepys experience dark days of tragedy, triumph, superstition, faith, lies and the staggering, naked truths that will ultimately bring them out of themselves and home to each other.

Amaryllis in Blueberry, the sophomore novel by Madapple author Christina Meldrum, is a dark family drama that twists and turns in so many directions it's difficult to keep up. Or describe. As each of the Slepys adds their story, the tale becomes ever more complex, ever more compelling. Sumptuous, haunting, and evocative, Meldrum's prose brings every character, every emotion, every detail to vivid life. You can't help but feel it all expanding inside you - the hope along with the heartache - resonating, staying with you whether you want it to or not. It's a depressing story, make no mistake, but one that refuses to be put down. Or forgotten.

(Readalikes: Um, nothing really comes to mind.)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), violence and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Amaryllis in Bluberry from the generous folks at Gallery Books and Inkwell Management (for whom this review was written).

1 comment:

  1. Yeah I love reading and I'm really into Dan Brown's stuff.

    Take a look at my blog about Dan Brown here:

    And my main blog:


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