Friday, September 27, 2013

Review: Little Island by Katharine Britton

Families are tricky. They can bring out the best in a person or the worst. And when there are tensions and secrets, a family gathering seems fraught with peril. Children often revert to the roles expected of them even if they are long since adults and they still see situations from the perspective of the child they used to be. In Katharine Britton's new novel, Little Island, the Little family is coming together for a weekend at Grace and Gar's small island inn in order to hold a memorial service for Grace's late mother. In the course of this weekend, they will discover long buried secrets, face ongoing hurts, and learn a little bit about themselves and each other as adults.

Joy, the oldest Little child, has just sent her son off to college with her husband and she's consumed with the worry of what her life will look like now. She still holds resentments towards her younger sister Tamar, who seems to have everything handed to her, and has always felt on the fringes of Tamar and twin Roger's lives. She doesn't even have the distinction of being the oldest child in the family, having had an older sister who died in infancy. In so many ways, her personality has been shaped by her always feeling like the runner-up. Tamar is the intense twin. She is bringing her own young twin daughters to the memorial for her grandmother but she's terrified she's failing with them and that she is no mother to speak of, lacking a necessary bond with the girls, and she's prickly about any suggestions or advice. She is rigid and selfish in many ways, still using and manipulating people the way she always has. Her twin Roger is fighting a lot of demons, aimlessness and alcoholism among them. Even so, he comes across as the happy go lucky, fun twin, the one who generally lightens a room. He has some pie in the sky dreams and one more realistic dream but the more realistic one is the one he's most afraid of reaching for. Each of these three are coming home to the island to honor their grandmother.

Meanwhile, their mother, Grace, is trying to create the memorial service that she thinks her mother most wanted and is worried she's falling far short. She's also worried about the way that husband Gar is slowing down and starting to be forgetful. He putters around doing many of the things he's always done allowing Grace to have charge of their family life. This complicated dynamic will come into play in various ways as the weekend unfolds because not only is the weekend the memorial service for Joan, it is also the twentieth anniversary of a senseless tragedy that changed all of the Littles forever. And finally long buried truths, both about Joan and about the events of that terrible night twenty years prior, will come to light and will set them all on the road to healing.

The novel is told mostly in the third person omniscient but Joy's sections are narrated in the first person giving the reader a greater insight into her closely held personal hurts, her general feelings about the crossroads in life she's standing at, and about what drives her interactions with her sister and brother. Her sections feel more immediate than those of the other characters because of this difference in narration. But the difference also contributes to an bit of an unbalanced feeling to the story as a whole. While it was easy to feel sorry for this terrifically dysfunctional family as a unit, the characters individually were not all that sympathetic. Tamar in particular was fairly hateful, causing the reader to root against her in every way, not an intentional result I suspect. The tension grows and tightens as the novel progresses and the reader starts to guess the damaging secrets but the resolution of both are too quickly, easily, and almost unbelievably achieved. And once the secrets are revealed, the entire tone of the novel changes as if the release makes everything a-okay with no lingering after affects.  An interesting, if not always entirely successful, look at grief, loyalty, family dynamics, and mothering.

For more information on Katharine Britton and the book, visit her webpage, find her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, check out her boards on Pinterest, or connect on Goodreads. For others' opinions on the book, check it out on Amazon.

Thanks to the publisher and BookSparks PR for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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