While this post is in a sense about a book, it is so much more because of a book I read. And maybe a little of a recent discussion I’ve been having with a fellow blogger. Because of that, it does not follow a normal review format and I doubt I’ll post any of this elsewhere.
The book in question is The Favorite Daughter by Patti Callahan Henry. I was really intrigued by the blurb and thought for sure I was going to really love this. I’ve seen it highly rated by other bloggers and had some pretty high hopes for it. I thought I knew what I was getting going into it. I didn’t.
I really expected the storyline to go in one direction, but it went a little differently and that differently absolutely blindsided me. It hit me so hard and so unexpectedly, it was nearly impossible for me to read this without a massive level of bias because it had such strong echos of some of the most difficult and painful events in my life. No. The events in the book do not mirror mine in any way, it is more the underlying themes of family and feelings of betrayal and fault and blame.
I almost could not get past the first half of this book because it made me angry and I wanted to scream at the characters and what kinds of horrible people they were for treating people they are supposed to love in such horrible ways. If this had been a physical book rather than an ebook, I would have been sorely tempted to start ripping out pages and setting it on fire. I wanted to throttle the main character for allowing those family members to continue to create gouges in her heart and soul and sense of self by laying the responsibility for mending a horrifically awful rift at her feet when it wasn’t her actions that caused that rift. All of this along with me fighting off tears and emotions that were so utterly unexpected.
I was forced to put the book down and go to bed, but I was kind of a mess. It took me a while to really examine my reaction and why it it was so visceral. It was just a book. The story wasn’t my story. It really wasn’t all that close. So why?
It dawned on me that my need to rage at the main character was, in some sense, a need to rage at past me. The reaction to those fictional family members are a whole host of left over feelings about the people in my own family. Characters with such similar traits as those people, the self-centeredness and lack of any desire to accept responsibility for their own actions. The whole story raked hard across deep, emotional scars I believed to be healing but are not nearly as healed as I thought or hoped. I think I was already a little raw from other discussions this week and the timing of this book was just really bad.
Several times, I really thought it would be best if I just set the book aside and not go on as I had a feeling it would infuriate me how these situations were handled and played out. I didn’t and I kept reading, needing or hoping for… I don’t know… some sense that I am not alone in how I feel, I think, or even some validation. In the end, I didn’t really get that.
Things I felt were inexcusable or unforgivable managed to find excuses the characters could live with, but I could never image myself being able to. For me, you get to the “I know I did this horrible, awful thing, but….” you have just defeated your purpose when you added that “but.” That “but” is only an attempt to justify the horrible, to excuse it regardless of how that horrible action did any damage. Like saying the damage holds less import than the need to assuage your self with those excuses. It is all tied into my own personal feelings about all of this (feelings that I’m fully aware probably don’t fall into the accepted or the norm) and they seemed to just amplify my reaction to the book as a whole. The overnight reflection and perspective allowed me to gain some distance, but it was still a highly emotional read for me and in a way that I’m certain the author never intended.
How do you write any kind of a review after a book that hits you like that? When nearly the entirety of your reaction is based on a gut level, personal emotional response that has nothing really to do with the book itself? On many levels, the author had to have done something well to have triggered that kind of a response, even unintentionally, but it is hard to separate. I may be able to work up a mostly honest star rating, but it would be impossible to break it down and analyze it to write anything that isn’t hugely personal, though.
I didn’t hate this book, but I really hate what it dredged up and how it made me feel. If I can force myself to step even a little bit away, I can see it was probably a really great book for other people. It just hits too close to home emotionally for me to really be able to do that.
I know I have a long way to go to ever fully heal from the damage and the holes that are left from my past experiences. I know, on a soul deep, gut level, that I have made the best choices possible for me, my kids and Hubby. Living with and healing from those choices are things that take a lot of time and life tends to get up in your face to remind you that you haven’t gotten there yet. I never expected one of those reminders to come in the form of a book.