Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review: Keepsake by Kristina Riggle

We tend to move every couple of years. There are all sorts of pros and cons to this fact but one of the big pros is that it tends to keep the household accumulation to a minimum, or at least down to a dull roar. What I mean by this is that every couple of years as we're getting ready to pack up the entire house and schlep ourselves to another state, we take a good look at our possessions and weed them out. There's nothing like knowing you're going to have to unpack and put away all that stuff to make you less sentimental. And yet, each time we move, both before and after the move, we have an enormous amount to haul off to the donation center so obviously we're accumulating each and every day. I can only imagine the sheer volume of things for someone who has never moved and has only tucked everything into their home. But there's another level entirely, that of people who hoard. They acquire and acquire and acquire and are actually incapable of letting go of any of it no matter that their physical possessions can literally be crowding them out of their homes. The main character of Kristina Riggle's newest novel, Keepsake, is just such a person.

Trish is a single mom struggling along as best as she can and doing an okay job at it as far as she can tell when Child Protective Services shows up at her door. It turns out that her seven year old son broke his collarbone when things in his room fell over on him. Living conditions have to change in order for the social worker assigned to the case to recommend that Jack remain at home with Trish, a fact that terrifies Trish even while she is outraged that a perfect stranger can mandate this and threaten to take her beloved child from her. While Trish concedes that her home might be a little messy, she maintains that no one is perfect, unable to see her obsession for what it is. Her older son Drew, a teenager who has moved out to live with his girlfriend's family because of his mother's out of control hoarding, enlists the help of his Aunt Mary, the immaculately neat sister who has drifted out of touch with Trish. Mary has just been laid off from her long-time job at an independent bookstore due to its closing and has had to face the reality that her boss, on whom she had harboured a crush for years only bantered with her as one would with a valued employee rather than flirting as Mary had hoped. But this means that Mary has the time to help Trish tackle the disaster of her home and to try and help her face the emotions that pushed her into hoarding in the first place.

Although the sisters seem like complete opposites, one a hoarder and one an obsessively tidy neat-freak, they both come from the same place. Their mother was a hoarder as well. And after their parents divorced, in large part because of their mother's disorder, their respective choices of which parent to live with and how to care for their mother drove a wedge between them. Trish sees nothing similar to her mother in her own situation while Mary can only see Trish heading down the same path and taking her beloved boys with her. Banding together to make the house habitable again, Mary enlists the help of their father as well as her long-time friend, a psychiatrist who is taking a break from his job. But clearing out the house is painful and Trish is resistant, vassilating between wanting to kick everyone out and protect her domain and reluctantly allowing them to help her so she doesn't lose Jack. As they slowly work through the house, Trish's psyche and her painful secrets are uncovered as surely and inexorably as the carpet in each room reappears from under the stacks.

A sensitive look at the effect of hoarding on families and the underlying causes of such behaviour, this novel goes beyond the surface of the reality shows on the subject and exposes the hurt and pain behind all of it. Trish as a character is likable even as the reader recognizes that she is in complete denial. Her desperate love for and fear of losing little Jack is touching and you'll root for her to overcome the little hobgoblins in her mind, sweep her house out, face her emotions, and rebuild healthy relationships with all those in her life whom she has kept at arm's length in order to hide her hoarding. Mary has her own compulsions in direct contrast to Trish's and although she is initially a colder character than Trish, you can't help but feel sorry for her and the damage she also carries in her heart and mind. Narrated alternately by each of the sisters, the reader is given insight into not only their longstanding family dysfunction and what formed each of them but also the way they each view the world and even each other. Their struggles to overcome the demons that haunt them are valiant and keep the reader invested even when their actions are frustrating. The secrets that are uncovered in the course of the novel are truly surprises but fit the story well. This is a quick and interesting read about compulsions, secrets, relationships, love, and family and will appeal to readers of women's fiction who want a bit heavier theme in their novels.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. Doesn't this book make you want to clear things out of your basement as fast as you can? Not the books, though :) Nice detailed review.


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