Reviewer June Maffin:Living on an island in British Columbia, Canada, Dr. Maffin is a neophyte organic gardener, eclectic reader, ordained minister (Anglican/Episcopal priest) and creative spirituality writer/photographer with a deep zest for life. Previously, she has been grief counselor, broadcaster, teacher, journalist, television host, chaplain and spiritual director with an earned doctorate in Pastoral Care (medical ethics i.e. euthanasia focus). Presently an educator, freelance editor, blogger, and published author of three books, her most recent (Soulistry-Artistry of the Soul: Creative Ways to Nurture your Spirituality) has been published in e-book as well as paperback format and a preview can be viewed on YouTube videos. Founder of Soulistry™ she continues to lead a variety of workshops and retreats connecting spirituality with creativity and delights in a spirituality of play. You can find out more about June by clicking on her Web Site.
Author: Brunonia Barry
Publisher: William Morrow Publishers
Remember the children’s game of plucking petals from a daisy and saying “s/he loves me; s/he loves me not” until you got to the last petal and that determined whether or not you were in love? In a way, I began plucking daisy petals as I read this book. On the one hand, there is a solid plot, there are well developed characters, the setting (Salem, Massachusetts) is intriguing, and the book has been well edited for syntax, grammar, etc. The daisy-plucking-I-love-this about the book had begun as each of these qualities was noted. But, these weren’t enough to be enthusiastic about the book. What was it that had me plodding through the book rather than excitedly delving into it? It began with the unusual and not-easy-to-remember names.
The story revolves around Boston psychotherapist Hepzebah (Zee) Finch whose mother committed suicide fifteen years ago. A traumatic-enough event in anyone’s life, but Zee was only thirteen and the act was carried out in front of her. This act continued to haunt Zee throughout her life – particularly when one of her new patients commits suicide by leaping off a bridge. Zee is unable to cope, walks away from her psychotherapy practice and returns to Salem where she was raised and where her father (known as Finch and now has advanced Parkinson’s disease), lives.
Finch has been in a relationship with Melville for decades beginning with her mother’s final and longest hospitalization for manic depression. Shortly before Zee arrives, Melville is nowhere in sight and the ailing Finch has no one to care for him as his debilitating disease advances. So, Zee takes a leave of absence from her practice putting a strain on her relationship with her fiancé Michael and becomes Finch’s full-time caregiver. Their father-daughter connection wasn’t altogether-wonderful before this role change, and it quickly deteriorates further as Zee begins to face the twisted memories that challenged their relationship.
The daisy-plucking-I-don’t-love-this-book continued. Why would a psychotherapist not do major work on herself about the issues that naturally would flow out of a childhood such as hers and the subsequent lingering issues about her parents prior to accepting clients? Surely if Zee offered psychotherapy to others, then it would have been appropriate for her to have moved further through analysis with her mentor Mattei in order to better understand significant developmental factors in her own life before helping others understand theirs. But that didn’t happen and the consequences of such inaction moved the plot in another direction.
As the book continues, Zee’s engagement ends; a new man enters her life; violence from an unsuspecting source rears its ugly head; Finch moves into Alzheimer’s “crossover” and is institutionalized; the facts behind Zee’s mother’s suicide are revealed; and Melville returns. An aside question to author: why not give this character a name other than that of the author, Herman Melville, whose quote “It is not down in any map; true places never are” is the basis for the book?
This could have been a fascinating and memorable book, but it missed the mark for this reviewer who wished the author had simply focused her story on the primary characters and relationships of the book (Zee, Maureen, Finch and Melville), and explored the impact that bipolar disease and Parkinson’s can have on people and relationships. Doing so could easily have accomplished the same goal of Zee’s ‘charting a new course in the existing map of her life’ without the distractions of the other plots, characters and unnecessary violent twist near the end of the book; and made a significant contribution towards understanding mental illness.
I began daisy-plucking with an “I-love-this-book” but came to its conclusion with an “I don’t-love-this-book.” However, the author’s ability to generate a storyline sufficiently intrigues me that I will keep an eye out for her next book in the hopes that she will become a KISS author (Keep It Simple, Sweetheart) and that when I daisy-pluck again, the result will be an “I-love-this-book.”
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