Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: The Innocent Sleep by Karen Perry

We all take risks every day. When we do it consciously, we weigh up the chances that something will go horribly wrong and having determined the odds are with us that nothing bad will happen, we do whatever it is we've been considering. But what about that slim percentage of times that the unthinkable does in fact happen? How do we live with ourselves, knowing that we chose the risk that led to terrible loss or tragedy or regret? And what happens if we can't accept it? These questions and more swirl through the tense plot of Karen Perry's (the pen name for authors Paul Perry and Karen Gillece) novel, The Innocent Sleep.

Harry and Robin are artists who have settled in Tangiers because of the quality of light. They have settled into their chosen community there and have a three year old son Dillon. He's not the easiest of toddlers,incredibly difficult to settle into sleep and so when, on the eve of Robin's birthday, Harry realizes that he hasn't picked up her present, just a five minute walk away, he leaves the sleeping child in their flat and goes to collect it.  It was at that moment that the world cracked open. An earthquake ravages Tangiers and the building where they had lived is leveled. Dillon's body is never found.

Living in Dublin five years on, Harry and Robin are trying to carve a new life out of the rubble of the old. Robin is newly pregnant and working as an architect while Harry is giving up his stand alone studio and moving his work back into the garage thanks to the economic stresses of the time. But on his final day at the studio, he has to make his way through a rally where he spots a young boy he is convinced is Dillon.  Harry had searched and searched for his son after the earthquake, always certain that no body meant that the boy had survived and now that he's seen him on the street, he cannot rest until he tracks this child down. He is completely obsessed. While Robin doesn't believe him, the cursory reappearance of a child who could be Dillon unravels their carefully constructed new life. Secrets and lies emerge, guilt rears its head again, and innocence has to be redefined. The tale of their life in Tangiers changes from one of artistic fulfillment and familial happiness ending in enormous grief to one of furtiveness, illicitness, and infidelity. And the unwritten story of their future metamorphoses right before the reader's eyes as both Harry an Robin's secrets are revealed.

The story is told in an alternating first person narrative so that both Harry and Robin can tell the story directly and neither of them are entirely truthful with the reader until they have to be. The pacing of the novel is uneven, very slow in the beginning but building tension quickly towards the end and the plot itself felt drawn out. The surprising ending comes after a hysterical, frantic crescendo. And while it would seem as if parents who have lost a child and are devastated by their loss should be sympathetic characters, they weren't really.  In fact, there are really no good guys here.  Not even relatable guys.  The story does raise issues of the bounds of creativity, all-consuming grief and obsession, mental illness, the limits of forgiveness, and horrifying regret over wrong choices but it couches it all in choices that are hard, if not impossible, to overlook.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

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