Sunday, June 30, 2013

Oh, Dear

The sun has finally come out again, and I was looking for something a little sunny to read; hence, I picked up this novel - Dear Lucy: A Novel, by Julie Sarkissian - of the top of my recent stack of Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) that have been piling up on my shelves. From the bright, colorful, and quirky cover, it looks like a cheerful, optimistic novel, and guessing from the chicken, it was about a young girl who lives on a farm. However, anyone making that assumption - fulfilling the dreaded adage of "judging a book by its cover," as marketing teams only love to assure that you do - would only be correct for about half of that sentence.

Dear Lucy is told primarily from the viewpoint of a young, mentally challenged girl named Lucy, who is looked after on a farm by two caregivers, named Mister and Missus, who are tasked to tend to her until her mother decides she can once again keep her in her life. Also on the farm is a young, pregnant woman named Samantha, who is equal parts loving of little Lucy, and secretive about her past, as well as several chickens that Lucy loves to oversee, and the left-behind words of Mister and Missus' daughter, Stella. The story follows Lucy, as she tries to make sense of her rapidly-changing world, with Samantha's due date approaching nearer, by attempting to understand universal concepts foreign to her, like the "secret of growing," or why the stories Samantha tells conflict so heavily with what others say is the truth.

The chapters intersperse themselves with the voices of the various characters, instead of just focusing on Lucy, which allows for a more rhythmic measuring and pacing of the slow-burning plot. It was a very calculated move, and kept the character development from getting too condensed, electing instead for special serving sizes of the unique and complex styles of story-telling in the various forms of each of the characters. While, after a while, this got a little too monotonous for me, and I had to fight the urge to jump forward a chapter or two to finally get a grip on the story, I refrained, and in the end, I think the novel was probably the better for it.

The narration styles were also refreshing and carefully constructed themselves, with each new voice coming through as distinctly their own. None of the characters themselves were carefully delineated as either "good" or "bad," and the setting and time period were similarly unmarked (Great Depression? WWII?). These balanced individualistic and ambiguous tendencies of description were both a hindrance and a help to the novel, allowing the reader to form their own opinions, but also making the constant moral weighing and attempts at association more difficult than they needed to be.

The most interesting aspect of the novel, by far, was the primary narrator, the titular Lucy, who is mentally handicapped. The effect is one-hundred-percent successful: it comes off as fully authentic and genuine in its application, completely earnest in sentiment, and allowed the reader to easily access the world of someone of a kind they haven't explored before, with the fuller breadth of outside knowledge to understand the things Lucy, herself, did not.

However, I did feel there was a severe detractor to such elements as the distinctly unique voice, the interesting and deeply morally involving story line, and the severe plights faced by some of the most vulnerable characters in the novel. Going into this book, there was no mention that Lucy was handicapped in any way (it actually takes you at least a few pages to really get the bigger picture). Similarly, the concept art is deceptively not-age-appropriate, and I cannot stress enough, the fact that the subject matter is positively brutal: themes like sexual assault, violence, suicide, etc. and, of course, the difficult topic of mentally handicapped children, populate the major story arcs of our characters, and there's a plot twist at the end of the novel, involving some unearthed facts about Stella, that literally made me throw my book across the room in disgust. In other words, the cover and description both don't explicitly lie about the contents of the novel, but they sure as hell don't tell much of the story, either.

Read this novel if you're looking for interesting voice, genuine characters, and a unique plot... just realize that you're getting a lot more baggage than you bargained for.

No comments:

Post a Comment