Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Review: A Slender Thread by Katharine Davis

I don't always come up with the proper retort when I am in a situation but I go home and perfect my rapier wit where no one can hear me or I write it down here and bore all two of my readers. But I am blessed to be able to find the words, even if they come a day late and a dollar short. Not so for all people; some people actually lose their ability to speak and understand words. This is horrible to me and I can imagine very little worse than losing language. The loss of this ability to communicate is at the heart of Davis' new novel. Margot has always relied on older sister Lacey's guidance, so when Lacey is diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, it alters Margot's life and outlook on everything. Lacey shepherded Margot from childhood into adulthood and now Margot feels she needs to pick up the pieces in Lacey's life, including with her husband and almost grown children, in view of this devastating diagnosis.

Set mainly in the present, when all involved are digesting what the future holds, the book also offers flashbacks to Margot and Lacey's childhoods and teen years in order to build the foundation of this incredibly close sisterly bond. And while Davis has done a nice job creating the sisters and their history, the strength of the book lies in the present narration where life goes on amidst the uncertainty and stress of Lacey's terrible life sentence. Husband Alex feels shut out of Lacey's head even though he still loves her as much as he ever has and so he alternately retreats into work and threatens to abandon the work that takes him too far away for too long. Lacey and Alex's twin daughters sense the tension and distress swirling around their house as they make college plans but they are shut out of the information about their mother's deteriorating condition, channeling their own unease in either small scale rebellion or clinging behaviour. And Margot grows distant from her long time live-in love as she becomes more entwined in Lacey's life.

But the book is not only about the effect of a life shattering illness on both the person stricken and all of their loved ones, it is also an examination of the bonds between sisters. Margot and Lacey shared so much as children and while they stayed close as adults, their lives diverged in many ways. The love and caring between them has stayed strong though and it is perhaps this very strength of connection that leads to so much frustration and strain when the boundaries of their individual lives overlap too extensively. How much does one sister owe another? And how can they maintain individual lives in light of these health changes?

The characters in the novel are sympathetic and readers will find themselves rooting for both Margot and Lacey to sort themselves out as we know they should, shaking our heads as they continue stubbornly on wrong paths, and cheering as they find the autonomy they both need in the face of serious illness. The sisters are the most well-realized of the characters but the bafflement and pain of the other characters is evident whenever they are on the page as well. Davis has drawn an affecting domestic drama eminently suitable for book clubs. Making Lacey a weaver and Margot a former painter living with a successful artist adds a visual arts dimension that will also appeal to many. I enjoyed this one although I must admit that now when I struggle to find a word, I do have a small flash of panic attached. I guess the fact that I fear living Lacey's sentence means this was indeed a successful novel.

Thanks to Angela from Penguin for providing me with a copy of the book for review.

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