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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

It's a Disease Novel, So, Yeah ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Nora Glass is more Martha Stewart than Martha Stewart.  The 44-year-old loves nothing more than reigning over her clean, orderly universe with precision and pride.  Her domestic supremacy has earned her legions of fans who turn to her syndicated newspaper column not just for household hints, but also for advice on weathering storms like divorce and single motherhood with grace—things at which Nora excels.  So what if her angelic daughter has morphed into a sullen teenager, whose words wound her mother daily?  Ellie's antics make Nora's readers laugh just as much as they did when she was a toddler.  So what if Ellie hates that total strangers know all the intimate details of her life?  Nora's ability to mine their everyday experience for nuggets of publishing gold is what pays the bills. 

When Nora receives a devastating diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease (EOAD), she feels her tidy world start to crumble.  Losing time, words and memories of things she did just moments ago terrifies her.  She can't stand what the disease is doing to her—taking away from her.  Knowing that EOAD is almost guaranteed to kill her within a few years doesn't make things any easier.  Nora can't stand the thought of 16-year-old Ellie, who has already been abandoned by her father, losing her mother as well.  Although Nora's fraternal twin, Mariana, promises to be there for both of them, that doesn't provide much comfort.  Marianna can barely take care of herself.  

As the symptoms of Nora's disease grow progressively worse, she must learn to let go—of control over her life, of grudges long-held, of perceptions that don't ring true, and of emotions she's always bottled up.  With all of it stripped away, Nora will have to put her trust in the very people she's had to care for all her life.  People who might fail.  People who might let her down.  People who will help her see that, sometimes, everything you need is right in front of you—if only you can remember to look.  

Disease novels are always a hard sell for me.  I'm sure they're not easy to write either—somehow you have to make them touching, but not sappy; affecting, but not melodramatic; realistic, but not depressing.  Original, especially surprising, disease novels are tricky to pull off (one of the reasons John Green's The Fault in Our Stars is so popular).  Considering all this, I didn't expect a whole lot out of Splinters of Light by Rachael Herron.  And that's pretty much what I got.  A character-driven story, the novel focuses on the relationships between the three Glass women—Nora, Ellie, and Mariana—and how they evolve in the face of Nora's illness.  Plotwise, there are small conflicts (Ellie's older boyfriend, Mariana's inability to commit to a relationship, Nora's romance with her neighbor, etc.), but mostly it's all about Nora's suffering.  I'm not going to lie: I got tired of Nora's wallowing.  In fact, I didn't find any of the characters that likable.  They depressed me, the lot of them.  Herron writes well, it's true, but, overall, I just didn't find this overly-long novel that enjoyable.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson and a teensy bit of Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord as well as almost every book I've ever read about someone dying of cancer)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, sexual content, and depictions of underage drinking and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Splinters of Light from the generous folks at Penguin.  Thank you! 

1 comment:

  1. If I don't like at least one character the book falls flat for me. Sorry this one was a let down.


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