Marie’s Reading: “Someone Like Me” by M.R. Carey

someon like meLiz Kendall has divorced her abusive husband, but that doesn’t stop him from launching one last attack–only this time, Liz fights back and wins.  However, in the moment, she feels as though someone else entered her body and controlled her actions.  She continues to have episodes where it’s almost as if a second consciousness has entered her mind, taking control of her body and driven mostly by rage.  Day by day Liz becomes more and more unsettled by what she thinks is a coping mechanism created by her own brain, but turns out to be a lot more sinister.

At the same time, a young girl named Fran is the survivor of a kidnapping.  It’s ten years after her trauma and she still has vivid hallucinations, including one of a fox companion named Lady Jinx who acts as her dearest friend and protector.  Along with hallucinations, Fran is missing a lot of memories.  Determined to uncover the truth about what happened to her and overcome her trauma, Fran decides to go digging into the story of her kidnapping and the man who did it.

Eventually Fran and Liz’s stories intersect.  Fran and Liz both go to the same psychologist, and then Fran becomes friends with Liz’s son Zac.  Soon enough it is clear that it’s up to Fran to save Liz and her family from the violent interloper who threatens them.

This is a poignant and unsettling book about the nature of self, the aftermath of domestic violence, mental illness, and the possibilities of parallel universes and different realities.  It’s also about love and loyalty and friendship.  Carey’s writing is vivid and compelling, and he’s got a real way with his characters’ voices.  This is a supernatural thriller, but one that’s firmly grounded in a story about family and love.

If you enjoyed Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts, you’ll probably like this one, too.  I’d also suggest Jennifer McMahon’s The Night Sisters or All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage.

–Marie

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Marie’s Reading “The Witch Elm” by Tana French

witch elmAfter being beaten nearly to death in a robbery, Toby heads to Ivy House, the old family manse, where his uncle Hugo is dying of brain cancer.  Toby’s always considered himself a very fortunate guy, until the attack and his less than full recovery afterward.  While he’s trying to heal at Ivy House as well as care for his uncle, a human skull is found in an elm tree on the property.

Of course a whole skeleton follows, which brings the detectives calling.  Whose body is it?  How did it get there?  Toby, caring for Hugo and not having the greatest memory after the attack, tries to answer these questions as best he can–both for himself and for the detective who seems to have Toby on the list of suspects.

French’s writing is lavishly detailed and so finely wrought you want to savor every sentence.  The story is atmospheric and compelling, and the characters are all well-developed and authentic.  There’s still an element of crime fiction in this stand-alone, but it takes a backseat to a story of identity and family.  It’s also fun to see the other side of the usual stories French writes, which focus on the detectives of the Dublin Murder Squad and their investigations. Here we’re with Toby the whole time as he tries to piece together his recollections and make sense of the present.

I really enjoyed the relationship between Toby and his cousins, Leon and Susanna.  They grew up together, almost like siblings, and their bond is clear, in all its complexity and history.  A lot of their relationship relies on memory now, and memory is a big theme in the novel–how people experience and thus remember things very differently, including relationships.

If you enjoyed French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, definitely check this one out–it’s not a crime novel, as I said, so you might miss that, but everything else great about French’s work is on display here.  Fans of Gillian Flynn and Kate Atkinson who haven’t tried French yet certainly should as well.

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “The Good House” by Ann Leary

good houseHildy Good is one of the top real estate brokers in her small town in Massachusetts.  She’s a respected businesswoman, and her family has lived in town for generations.  She’s even descended from one of the women accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, a fact she plays up when showing new folks around town hoping to sell a house.

Hildy is also an alcoholic in recovery, though lately the definition of “recovery” has begun to slip for her.  Though she’ll be the first to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying some wine of an evening.  The story of Ann Leary’s The Good House involves Hildy becoming friends with a new woman in town, Rebecca, at the same time that she rekindles a relationship with a man she’s known for years.

The Good House is a dark piece of domestic character-centered fiction.  And it’s not a leisurely story.  There’s lots of drama and it’s very quick-paced.  But Hildy is just so compelling it’s hard to break away.  The descriptive, evocative writing helps to make you feel a connection to Hildy.  The first-person narration helps the connection as well, creating a character that feels real and truthful and sometimes pitiable and unlikable.

At its core this is a story of a woman working through alcoholism, her own angry, private struggle.  She’s lugging around a lot of baggage, and we’re witness to all of her cringe-worthy drunken episodes.  At least, those she can remember.  It’s due to Hildy’s alcoholism that the story takes its dark turn toward the end.

The Good House is also a story of a small New England town, and the way they are changing.  Many people in this area will recognize the gentrification of a beautiful coastal community, and the way townies whose families have lived somewhere for hundreds of years can no longer afford to live in their hometowns.  Hildy’s being a real estate agent was a good choice, in that it lends this extra dimension to the story.  Even though she’s a bred townie, she still cheerfully and competitively sells houses to rich people from away.  There’s a wonderful sense of place and community (both good and bad) in this novel.

Readalike possibilities: Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh, though darker and with more of a mystery element, might still appeal to those who enjoyed the darker side of The Good House.  It also shares the small-town New England setting. Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs might be a good choice, both for the narrator’s anger, unreliability, and the high drama. Last, Paula Hawkins’   The Girl on the Train could also work, particularly Rachel’s storyline.  There’s more violence and thriller aspects in that one, but it’s still very character- and relationship-centered.

–Marie