Monday, March 9, 2015

Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas

Josephine Hurst has her family under control. With two beautiful daughters, a brilliantly intelligent son, a tech-guru of a husband, and a historical landmark home, her life is picture perfect. But living in this matriarch’s determinedly cheerful, yet subtly controlling domain hasn’t been easy for her family, and when her oldest daughter, Rose, runs off with a mysterious boyfriend, Josephine tightens her grip, gradually turning her flawless home into a darker sort of prison.

Resentful of her sister’s newfound freedom, Violet turns to eastern philosophy, hallucinogenic drugs, and extreme fasting, eventually landing herself in a psych ward. Meanwhile, her brother, Will, recently diagnosed with Asperger's, shrinks further into a world of self-doubt. Their father, Douglas, finds resolve in the bottom of a bottle—an addict craving his own chance to escape.

Josephine struggles to maintain the family’s impeccable fa├žade, but when a violent incident leads to a visit from child protective services, the truth about the Hursts might finally be revealed.

My take: 4 looks
A perfect family is very rarely as it seems, and the Hursts are no exception. Told in alternating voices of 16-year-old Violet and 11-year-old Will, the story slowly unfolds much like peeling layers off a rose. Big pieces with a sweet fragrance, until you get to the ugly core.

Violet and Will's voices are very different. Will is eager to please his mother, and sees the best in her. One of my favorite paragraphs describes Violet's perspective:

"Violet developed an almost pathological need to point out whatever the rest of the Hursts wanted to sweep under the rug and parade it around like a skull on a stick." p 26

She knows something is wrong, but because of her youth and immaturity, has trouble not only expressing it, but being taken seriously by others; especially when her mother's voice is the other one in the equation.

Masterful at manipulation, backhanded compliments and insinuations, Josephine is the perpetual victim. Zailckas writes this character to perfection. Unfortunately, she has first-hand experience from her own childhood, as told in the notes at the back of the book. Jo is cunning, understated in public and over-the-top in private. She is truly a character that you will love to hate.

I was cheering for Violet the entire time I wondered what became of Rose. An absent character in her own right, the revelation at the end of the book of how Rose finally did escape her mother's clutches was somewhat predictable, but that didn't take away from the impact. The highlight of the story for me was the end, where the light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be a freight train, headed right for me.

A very satisfying read and highly recommended.

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