Sunday, August 5, 2018

Growing Up is Hard to Do: Putney (Zinovief) and Whistle in the Dark (Healey)

I've been making slow progress through a long one lately, so I should take advantage of a little catch-up time!

I've seen a good bit of buzz around this soon-to-be released novel, so I'll start here (disclaimer received an Advance Readers Copy from the publisher). It is a bit of a cop-out to begin by calling it a Lolita tale for the MeToo world, but it can also serve as a warning for those who may not like the content...not that I can imagine many people truly LIKING the content...

In 1970s England, the Greenslays live a bit of a bohemian lifestyle....people come, people go, children often fend for themselves amid the varying guests (who are often enjoying some form of drugs...all of which allows plenty of room for the novel's key stories). Ralph, age 25, is one of many arrivals, come to work with the famous father in the clan. As a nine year old girl runs by, Ralph has to shuffle a bit to cover up the obvious effect she has on him. He befriends Daphne and, in a parlance that postdates the youth scenes, grooms her...becoming a friend, telling her he loves him but must keep it quiet, gradual building a physical relationship that leads to sex (aka rape) when she's 13.

In the present (both frames and interrupts the memory scenes), Ralph is very sick and dying. In an unrelated arc inspired by a piece of art that reflect on what she still sees as an idyllic childhood (that was followed by some rough years of addiction and a bad marriage that did produce a lovely daughter), Daphne's best friend, Jane -- Daphne, Jane, and Ralph all share narration duties -- opens her eyes to the truth of the relationship and how it connects with man of Daphne's struggles. And, of course, there are secrets, confrontation, and more.

In college, I was involved in a group that often talked about experiencing (and embracing, even seeking out) discomfort. This book does this. And it reminds me that discomfort is not always a bad thing. This book was far from emotionally easy, but the writing is lovely and the characters well-drawn, fully-fleshed people. Mental health, drugs, sex (obviously far from ideal sex), and issues of class run though it. The power of denial, of Daphne's belief that it was true, love and the ways even things we can't consciously process can effect our future, are well-rendered.

It isn't a easy read, but it isn't meant to be.  4.5 stars. I can't quite say a true 5...though I can't voice why, but will still round up. Rad a dozen or so reviews, but really curious to see what any of my friends think...
Fifteen-year-old Lana is neither an easy child nor a happy one. When she takes a painting vacation (painting holiday sounds so much nicer, British English does offer some lovely turns of phrase!). she goes missing. Four days later, a farmer finds her in a field. Lana purports to remember nothing from the time he was gone. Her mom doesn't really believe it and becomes a bit obsessed with finding answers. Lana seems to enjoy the brief delay before she has to return to school. Her (a good bit) older sister is expecting her first baby which seems to get lost in he shuffle. And, honestly (b/c it say quite a lot), I finished it several weeks ago and have scant memories of Dad.

More than a mystery about a missing girl (although that does indeed run throughout), this is a look at being a family when one member is a troubled teen (so says this formerly troubled, read: depressed, teen). There were little moments that I enjoyed, but overall it fell a bit flat for me. I also felt pretty mixed on the ending...I appreciate some of Mom's final scenes. Others seem to enjoy it, so maybe it is me  2.5 stars...I gotta go with rounding down...

Regardless, thank you to the publisher for supplying the advance edition in exchange for an honest review). Even if it wasnt for me, I appreciate that I get to read a range of books that I might not on my own, especially those that don't fit into my typical genre.