The Memory Keeper’s Daughter … a review

I had heard a lot about this book so when I chanced upon it, I picked it up. It was meant to be a travel read, and it is a good size and weight for that. So if you are going away on holiday this summer and want something interesting, I would recommend this book.

The plot hinges on Dr. David Henry, who lies to his wife and tell her that one of their twins, a daughter, was stillborn. In reality, she had Down’s and he gave her away to the nurse to put in a home. The nurse Caroline, couldn’t bear it however, and decides to raise the child herself. The plot is a bit too iffy. There are too many coincidences and the fact that Mrs Henry is totally obsessed in her grief but manages to mother her son and have a life anyway (however grudgingly) is a bit strange. She also questions her husband surprisingly less in the initial year after her daughter’s death, even though she cannot get past it.

But, but, once you get past all that, and assume the plot is a given, the portrayal of the fragility of relationships is actually brilliant. The slow decay of the Henry marriage, the dysfunctional family unit for Paul – the surviving child, the evolving relationship of Mrs Henry and her sister, the secret between Caroline and Dr Henry, and the struggles of Caroline with her ‘dauhter’ Phoebe are all excellently handled. Life can sometimes be stranger than fiction and the various people in their individual journeys are well-bound by this strange secret – a disabled child.

The treatment of peoples’ past as well is nicely written and you can see how each character’s past shapes their thoughts and behaviour. This is generally always true for good books, but this one is particular was standout. Down’s children as well are very precocious  in some ways and through Phoebe, those sentiments are nicelyconveyed. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I can see why there was a hype about it.

Sylvia Plath

Today is Sylvia Plath‘s death anniversary. Somehow, it seems more appropriate to remember her on this day than on the day of her birth. today was the day when she decided to take life and matters into her own hands and leave this world of her own free will. I love her poetry. I think it is deep, and beautiful, and touching. It is also, in my opinion, slightly gendered. In the sense that, I think women would relate and feel more from it than men. But that’s just me, I’m sure many men understand her just as well. I like how she used to write of things that constrained her, and constrained her demons too. Imagine leading a life with such talent and such a lot of pressure for it. Giving up her entire life in a country and moving to foreign shores, composing new poems, making new friends… what a life led! What a life…
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

I re-read The Bell Jar again, the story of the deep downward spiral into depression and nervous breakdown. It is such a dark book. And in the light of darker female protagonists dominnating the Hollywood movie scenes of late, Sylvia’s words put even more spice into the mix. I have always recommended her writing – for the sense of universal tragedy evoked as an extension of personal pain. Read ‘Colossus’… see how the loss of her father figure is extended into the falling of a giant statue… beautiful!

A blue sky out of the Oresteia
Arches above us. O father, all by yourself
You are pithy and historical as the Roman Forum.
I open my lunch on a hill of black cypress.
Your fluted bones and acanthine hair are littered

In their old anarchy to the horizon-line.
It would take more than a lightning-stroke
To create such a ruin.
Nights, I squat in the cornucopia
Of your left ear, out of the wind,

Counting the red stars and those of plum-color.
The sun rises under the pillar of your tongue.
My hours are married to shadow.
No longer do I listen for the scrape of a keel
On the blank stones of the landing.

BookMark talks to Tanya Peterson (My Life in a Nutshell) Part 2

Without much waffle, here is Tanya, answering some of my burning questions!

BM: Brian and Abigail have faced very different kind of trauma; but how come the manifestations are the same?

 

 

TP: This is tricky to answer (unless you want a lengthy paper or even a non-fiction book, but I don’t think anyone wants that!). It’s tricky because it’s complex, and it’s tricky because nothing regarding human psychology and behavior is black-and-white. I’ll try to address it in a nutshell.

While the manifestations aren’t quite the same (Brian has panic attacks, extreme worries, and an automatic impulse to hide from the world, while Abigail has tantrums and alternating withdrawal and developmentally inappropriate attachment patterns), both of them are responding to the world from a mindset of fear and a lack of knowing what else to do (because neither of them was ever taught how to live in the world.) Generally speaking, all people respond to stressors by internalizing (turning the stressor inside) or by externalizing (acting out). Everyone does both, but some do one more than the other. That’s why you see Brian’s panic attacks and Abigail’s tantrums. They’re different, but similar, ways of responding to anxiety and triggers. These are externalizing behaviors. They have similarities because they’re human. But there are differences because each individual human is unique. (For example, Brian has, among other things, generalized anxiety disorder. That disorder (like all others) has defining features, but exactly how those features manifest is different for every single person who lives with GAD. This is why Brian and Abigail have both similarities and differences.

 

BM: Are you the patient or the counsellor? Whose character has drawn greater inspiration from your life?

 

TP: I’m both! I’m credentialed as a nationally certified counselor (US), and I’m also a patient. I have bipolar disorder and have dealt with anxiety issues as well. Brian definitely has drawn inspiration from my life. He’s not autobiographical in the least, but the anxieties I’ve dealt with made it natural to portray Brian. His thought processes are very similar to what my own have been!

 

BM: What’s next?

 

TP: I’m well into a novel about a character who has dissociative identity disorder. It’s about him as well as his family and a close friend. It’s the story of what DID is really like (as opposed to the way its portrayed in film) both for people who have it and for those in their lives. It’s really fun to write, but it’s a challenge. I can’t stop now because I’ve thoroughly bonded with the characters. I’ll face the challenge and (hopefully) do their story justice.

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Part 1 is here! I do think she is a brilliant writer and the research that went into her book shows.

Previously, as part of the Book’s Blog Tour, Trailer, Teaser, Review. Also, Leave of Absence

BookMark talks to Tanya Peterson (My Life in a Nutshell) Part 1

Without much waffle, here is Tanya, answering some of my burning questions!

BM: Describe where you are just now and the things around you; give us a peek into your life!

 

TP: At the moment I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my backyard. I’ve made myself comfortable in a low camping chair (that I really do use for camping), my computer is on my lap, an my bare feet are resting on the soft, freshly-mowed grass. I’m in the shade of a fairly large evergreen tree, so the temperature is ideal despite the 85-degree heat of the summer afternoon. I can see my flowers blooming: a variety of roses, a cluster of black-eyed susans just beginning to unfurl, my newly planted corner garden of lavender, daisies, dahlias, coreopsis, and more in tiny but vibrant bloom. It’s peaceful and inspiring. For optimal well-being, I need to spend time outdoors. I love writing outside!

 

BM: Let’s dive into the book then… When raising a child, how does a parent/teacher know if the child is just being a child and throwing tantrums or is dealing with more important issues?

 

TP: While of course every child is unique, with his/her own personality, there are defined stages that all experience at a given age. These stages include general ways of behaving and responding to the world. For example, a two-year-old who doesn’t have full command of her language can’t always express strong emotion verbally; thus, it’s natural for her to have tantrums. By the time that child has entered elementary school, she’s at a different developmental stage, has better command of language, can regulate her emotions more than she could at age two, etc. While an occasional outburst is still to be expected (depending on personality, some have more outbursts than others), if the tantrums are frequent and severe and there are other things going on (acting too clingy or dependent or too aloof or problems with social skills, for example), it’s a sign that there could be something more going on. The tantrums are a symptom of a problem rather than an age-appropriate behavior.

 

In the story, Abigail Harris can have a tantrum for very little reason (well, for very little reason as seen by an outsider. From her perspective, the tantrums have a definite reason.) Her tantrums are severe, and they can be long lasting or stop abruptly. Her behavior switches from dependent to independent and back again. (I won’t say more to avoid spoiling things!). These are not typical seven-year-old behaviors. For reasons I won’t say, she has an attachment disorder that accounts for her behavior.

 

Basically, parents and teachers should consider how a child acts compared to other children of similar age. Look for patterns. What is the child doing that’s out of the norm? When does this happen? Knowing these things is a great starting point for helping the child.

BM: Can Brian’s condition be quantified by severity? Say, on a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is his disorder?

 

TP: Definitely! One way of assessing mental illness in general is to consider how much it affects a person’s life and overall functioning. Can someone function well and just needs a bit of therapy or medication? Or are they completely incapacitated and in need of hospitalization? Or something in between?

 

Brian’s disorders are debilitating.  They’ve completely limited his life in almost every way imaginable. On a scale of one to ten, I would categorize him a nine. He’s not at a ten because he is living his life, albeit in a very restricted fashion. He can get to work, he has an activity he enjoys. But his anxiety chokes him to such a degree that he experiences panic attacks over nearly everything, including just the thought of some things. The poor man is miserable and feels powerless to get better.

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Stay tuned for Part 2! I do think she is a brilliant writer and the research that went into her book shows.

Previously, as part of the Book’s Blog Tour, Trailer, Teaser, Review. Also, Leave of Absence

My Life In A Nutshell … a review

cover

 

Tanya J Peterson was kind to invite me to be part of her blog tour and I was more than happy to take her up on the offer. After over a year since I reviewed Leave of Absence, I was prepared to be sucked into another tale of agonising and debilitating mental illness. ‘Nutshell’ is the state in which our central characters live – Brian and Abigail. Brian in in his early thirties and suffers from a chronic anxiety disorder He stays away from everyone and everything and has an ordinary job as a handyman at a local school. On the outside, he is a normal young man, who loved cycling to work, hiking in the woods, gardening and growing fresh produce, and animals. But on the inside, Brian is troubled and lost. Everyday actions like picking out a set of clothes, grocery shopping, and pleasant interaction pushes him towards severe panic attacks.

Life conspires and he meets Abigail Harris at school. A little girl of seven, she throws tantrums, behaves badly, and brings hell down if anyone tries to cross her. She lives with her Aunt and Uncle, who are at their wits’ end already. Brian and Abigail strike up a very likely friendship. It was clear to me as a reader that they both were dealing with similar issues. I also felt that Brian was the unfortunate result of an Abigail growing up in neglect.

This is the story of a beautiful friendship and a careful clutch of people who make this possible. One of the nice things about this book is that all the secondary characters are very well thought-out. They’re each indispensible to the story. The Harrises, Brian’s colleague Roger, the principal of the school, Brian’s counsellor, and Abigail’s teachers. Each of the characters is heartwarming in their efforts to ensure that both flourish.

While I enjoyed this book thoroughly, I felt, at times, that Brian’s ‘episodes’ were long drawn out and seemingly endless. But when I came to the bits where he was on the verge of receiving help, it made me want it so bad too, on his behalf. The author has managed to instill that yearning in the reader as well, which is pretty impressive! Worth a read!

Teaser Tuesday (July 15)

My teaser:

This child has never, ever had a stable lap on which to cuddle and fall asleep. Too much of her life has been lapless ; too many times she was locked in a room or ignored or even beaten. She had nobody. I picture her cowering , shivering, on a bed or chair or on the floor in a corner. And the times she did have warm, inviting laps in which to rest? Those were only temporary , and she knew it. As she said herself, whenever she was bad, people sent her back. As if she were merchandise. I look down at her innocence and seethe. She’s a kid, not a sweater you can get rid of when it snags.”

From (Kindle Locations 2757-2762 Inkwater Press 2014) of My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Enjoy!

Book Blog Tour – My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel by Tanya J. Peterson

Hello!

By now, most of you know that I’m participating in the blog tour for Tanya J. Peterson’s latest book which is just out. You might have looked at the trailer last week and gotten intrigued by the teaser I shared too! Look out for another teaser up soon and my review of the book this Thursday! We’ll also have an interview on here and speak with the author herself. Like last time, if you have any pressing questions or comments, let me know!

The story, in a nutshell, is this: It’s the story of two people who don’t quite know how to live in the world—the man, Brian, because of debilitating anxiety, the girl, Abigail because of instability and abuse — and their journey to learn from each other. Here is the press release for you!