Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Review: Left by Mary Hogan

When things go wrong in life, some people retreat into fantasy. Sometimes the life they imagine is very basic and other times it can grow to be an elaborate escape from the reality they are facing. This is the case in Mary Hogan's newest novel, Left: A Love Story.

The novel opens with Fay Agarra, the narrator of the story, walking her dog Lola and talking to and about a pre-war building in her New York City neighborhood, a building she's fallen in love with and is fantasizing about moving into "after it was all over" without mentioning what "it" is. The story immediately jumps to Spain and a vacation she took with her husband, the time from which she dates the changes in her life. Fay is 21 years younger than her husband and although she says often that their May-December romance shouldn't have worked, it has been a nearly perfect marriage for 22 years. Paul is a well-respected sitting judge in the city and has an adult son and an annoying ex-wife. Fay is an artist whose Etsy store is finally taking off. They're in Spain for a break from real life and so that Fay can find some more inspiration for her lamp shades. As they are getting ready to leave Spain, something strange happens though. Fay's "there kind of guy" drives off and leaves her, then telling police that she's lost. This turns out to be the first instance of Paul's forgetting, his dismissal of Fay's concerns, and a rather abrupt personality change that comes and goes. Fay is concerned by what she sees as significant changes but when she mentions her fears to her stepson and to Paul's doctor, each of them discounts her observations, suggesting she is imagining things. Only after a fall and surgery change things irreparably, does the truth come out.

Fay, as Paul's wife and caretaker, narrates the story, flipping back and forth from the past that led her to where she is and the present where she imagines herself falling into a relationship with a man she's seen in the building she covets. That she has created a whole story about this man---she's dubbed him Blake and invented his entire life out of thin air--and seems to truly believe her invention or maybe just wants to believe it so badly that she is shocked when it turns out to be as far from the truth as possible seems a little odd, as does her obsession with the building this man lives in. This easy belief in her own story, and the fact that Fay is so easily bullied, unsure of her observations about Paul once they are questioned, contribute to her coming off as far younger than she actually is. Her world, until the incident in Spain, seems to have been so charmed that she is incredibly naive and completely blindsided by any hint of trouble. Although Fay narrates her own story, she resolutely steers away from discussing everything going on with Paul as much as she can, escaping into her imaginings rather than detailing the actual day to day with her failing husband. This means that although the novel deals with a very difficult subject, the story as a whole remains mostly quite light and superficial. It does address some of the stresses of being a caretaker but obliquely instead of head-on, making it difficult to connect and sympathize with Fay's character. She almost seems as if she spends the entire book in shock, repeating phrases throughout and focused on inconsequential things rather than bigger issues and concerns. The reader is told about the Agarra's wonderful marriage but never shown it to make it real. Secondary characters, including Paul, are lightly sketched, keeping Fay as the main focus of the story. The book, this tale of a love and marriage slowly fading away, is quite short and a very fast read that many readers will find sweet and affecting.

For more information about Mary Hogan and the book, check out her webpage, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for inspiring me to take my copy of the book off the shelf for review.

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