Sunday, July 30, 2017

Book Review: GATHER THE DAUGHTERS by Jennie Melamed

#BookReview GATHER THE DAUGHTERS by Jennie Melamed

GATHER THE DAUGHTERS is an exquisitely written and strong debut novel about a dystopian society known as "the island." The island was settled generations ago by "the ancestors," ten families which fled "the wastelands" (the mainland) after some sort of apocalyptic catastrophe (possibly a nuclear attack). The families live strictly by the rules set down by the ancestors in "Our Book." This is in an agrarian community. Gender roles are very traditional: men do outside labor, women have children and take care of the homes. Most men are farmers, although others have professions such as tanners, carpenters, roofers, i.e. that which is related to keeping the infrastructure. Families are limited to having two children. Children attend school until puberty but there are scarcely any books nor much paper. Some of the men are "wanderers," men who go back to "the wastelands" to scavenge for materials.

Vanessa Adams, age thirteen, is the much-loved daughter of a wanderer, James Adams.  James has a library which has been in his family since the ancestors first came to the island. Father (as Vanessa, and all children, address their male parent)  permits Vanessa to read these books. Her mother also is a benevolent parent who dotes on Vanessa while ensuring she learns how to clean, cook and take care of the home. Vanessa is still at home because she has not yet reached her "summer of fruition," i.e. she has not started her menses. Vanessa has her own opinions about how life could be improved on the island, but she keeps them to herself. She is an obedient daughter. All the girls attend the labor of older women. Some women bleed out and die. Many of the babies are stillborn or "defectives." Most women hope to have sons. 

"Vanessa once asked Mother why everyone cries for girls. It doesn't seem fair that boys are greeted with celebration, but everyone cried when she came sliding into the world on a river of salt and blood. Mother told her she'd understand when she was older."

Other girls on the island are not blessed with loving parents. Amanda, age fifteen, had her summer of fruition last year, and is married to Andrew, a gentle young man who loves Amanda. She is expecting their first child. Amanda's father was not kindly. Caitlin Jacob is beaten by her father regularly. It is spring, and the next season will be Caitlin's summer of fruition, when she will be paired with a young man, married and begin to have children.  Janey Solomon, who is seventeen, has starved herself for years to prevent her menses from starting. She adores her younger sister Mary, and loves her father and her mother. Most of the children on the island, and the adults as well, are frightened by Janey's strong, determined personality. Janey does not want to have the life her mother and all of the other women have had. She dreams of life on other islands, life where women have control over their destiny. When something horrific happens to one of these four, the act sets in motion a series of events which will change life on the island forever.

Jennie Melamed's first novel is astounding.The novel explores violence against women (physical, sexual and psychological), women's reproductive rights, and restriction of women's rights in general in a skillful and straightforward manner.  GATHER THE DAUGHTERS addresses the issue of girls being confined to the role of breeders without any freedom to divert from this role. Melamed's prose is beautiful and clear. The descriptions of the girls and of nature are particularly hypnotic. The novel is told in the third person, and each chapter is written from the point of view of Vanessa, Amanda, Caitlin or Janey.  Each character is distinct and compelling. The pacing of the story flows synchronous with the plot. The girls are subjected to "the unspeakable" (my quotes), deeds and ways about which there eventually are frank and open discussions by the characters. Hopefully the novel will launch similar discussions among readers. 

Other critics have compared this novel to THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood, THE GIVER by Lois Lowry and NEVER LET ME GO by Kazuo Ishiguro. However, I think it better to liken GATHER THE DAUGHTERS to P.D. James's CHILDREN OF MEN, Nathaniel Hawthorne's THE SCARLET LETTTER, and Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery." This literary dystopian thriller is raw, savage, intense and magnificent. I very much look forward to Jennie Melamed's future works.

Highly Recommended.

Thank you to the publisher for allowing me to read this novel through NetGalley. GATHER THE DAUGHTERS was published in the United States on July 25, 2017. GATHER THE DAUGHTERS UK

Monday, July 10, 2017

Book Review: FINAL GIRLS by Riley Sager

FINAL GIRLS is a completely unique, dazzling, white-knuckle ride of a thriller which also shows great depth of understanding about trauma survivors. A "final girl" is a horror movie trope whereby there is a lone survivor of a serial killer's massacre, like Sally Hardisty in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Laurie Strode in Halloween, and Sidney Prescott in Scream. Here Riley Sager turns the device on its head by creating a story about actual "final girls," three women who outlived other victims of three different serial killers. Quincy Carpenter (29), the protagonist, is the youngest. Ten years ago she and her closest college friends went to spend an autumn weekend at Pine Cottage, her best friend Janelle's family cabin in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. A man, to whom Quincy will only refer to as "Him," killed everyone with a knife -- except for Quincy (who was critically wounded).  She was rescued by a local cop named Franklin "Coop" Cooper, who shot "Him" dead. Quincy has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and can only remember the beginning of the massacre to when Coop rescued her. 

Everything between those two points remains a blank in my memory. An hour, more or less, entirely wiped clean. "Dissociative amnesia" is the official diagnosis. More commonly known as repressed memory syndrome. Basically what I witnessed was too horrific for my fragile mind to hold on to. So I mentally cut it out. A self-performed lobotomy.

Quincy now leads a very ordered, though somewhat solitary life. Her live-in boyfriend Jeff, an attorney with the city's Public Defender's Office, is very loving and supportive. Quincy has a baking blog, a Xanax prescription, and a two-bedroom apartment in on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (bought with money from lawsuit settlements). Because of the heartache of losing her friends, she doesn't allow herself to get close to anyone. She still remains in touch with Coop, her self-appointed guardian. Coop makes the three-hour drive in to see Quincy because he has some news. He tells Quincy that Lisa Milner, the eldest of the "final girls," has killed herself. 

Quincy is stunned. Lisa (42) had been in touch with Quincy over the years to offer support. Lisa survived a massacre at her sorority house in Muncie, Indiana, and went on to become a child psychiatrist. Only Lisa, Quincy and Samantha "Sam" Boyd (36), who survived a massacre at the Tampa motel where she worked as a maid, know what it feels like to be the only person to endure and outlive their assailants.  Samantha went off the grid years ago, so Quincy feels truly alone...until Sam shows up at Quincy's door.  These two "final girls" form an alliance which may help--or destroy--Quincy.

Riley Sager has written a mesmerizing thriller, and Quincy Carpenter is an unreliable narrator with great complexity.  Her trauma has caused her to lose trust in herself. She has survivor's guilt, she has amnesia, and, being lonely and over-medicated, she is easily psychologically manipulated. She spends a lot of effort trying to appear "fine," when she most definitely is not. Quincy, however, is not someone to be underestimated. 

The narrative is told in two ways.  Present-day Quincy is written in the first-person. Scenes from Pine Cottage are in the third-person, which helps maintain the mystery of what really happened ten years ago.

The character development and the plot development are subtle yet strong. Nothing is revealed before the author wants it to be, and there are delicious twists and shocks. Sager's pacing is flawless, speeding up during action scenes, and sensitive when dealing with exposition and Quincy's internal monologue.

The author clearly knows film history and, with a deft touch, pays homage to classic films like Gaslight, DiaboliqueRosemary's Baby, and Single White Female. FINAL GIRLS is a true original, and will be the psychological thriller everyone will be dying to read this summer.

Thank you to the author and the publisher, Dutton, who allowed me to read this novel through NetGalley. Publication Date: July 11, 2017  Length: 352 pages