#117 ~ Janeology

November 7, 2008 at 5:23 pm | Posted in Books, Family, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 7 Comments
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Janeology by Karen Harrington

Janeology, Karen Harrington’s first novel, opens after Jane, young mother of toddler twins, who suffers from depression following a miscarriage, turns manic and drowns her son Adam and nearly drowns her daughter Sarah as well.  This novel, however, does not tell this story from Jane’s perspective.  Instead, it is told from her husband Tom’s perspective.  After Jane is found innocent of Adam’s murder by reason of insanity, Tom is indicted for neglect.  The state decides to prosecute him for not recognizing the depth of Jane’s illness and for leaving his children solely under her care while he went to work.  This truly is something that could very easily happen today.

Once the initial shock of what has happened to his family wore off and Jane’s trial came to an end, Tom was eager to be or at least to feel punished for what happened to his family.  He might not have even defended himself at all had his mother not hired an attorney.  Luckily, she did, and Dave Frontella proposes a revolutionary defense strategy.  In it, he holds Jane’s genealogy ultimately responsible for what happened and this was nothing that Tom could have ever known.  Not only is the defense unconventional, his means of determining what it was in Jane’s genes is entirely controversial.  Dave locates Jane’s half-sister Mariah, a clairvoyant.  Mariah knows about a family trunk in the attic.  Inside this trunk are photographs and other heirlooms of which Tom was completely unaware.  She uses those to invite Jane’s ancestors to tell their stories.

Just like Tom, I had to suspend disbelief as Mariah embodies Jane as a young child.  As the stories of her family keep unfolding, I was drawn more and more into the history until I was almost frustrated with Tom for being so stubborn and not admitting that things are making more and more sense.  This mixture of historical fiction within a “ripped from the headlines” story worked very well for me.  Tom is a college literature professor, but like many such men, he comes off as being somewhat removed from his own emotions.  He is numb and could only seem to feel safe experiencing his life was back when things were right – back when he and Jane were young and in love.  Jane’s ancestors, however, are quite the contrary.  They are true to their nature.  They are messy, they are passionate, and they are entirely flawed.  I may not like them all, but I could wrap my arms around them and feel compassion.  I was acutely aware that my feelings toward Jane’s ancestors mirrored those Tom held in his heart for his wife.  He was unable to shake his love for Jane because he could not forget the story of their lives and love before she snapped.

Reading Janeology was a powerful experience for me.  As someone who suffered from post-partum depression, I could relate to Jane very well.  I could also very well understand Tom.  I feel that he very much did his best to make it through Jane’s depression, hoping that one day she would come back to her family.  In that way, he provided insight into what my own husband experienced.  I was also lucky to have read this novel while I was in Boston because some of the most important revelations about Jane’s family centered in that city.  It was thrilling for me to have come back from a three hour walking tour of historic Boston only to read about one of streets I crossed along the way.  It made that section of the novel that much more real for me.

In addition to being compelling, most especially during Mariah’s sessions with Jane and her ancestors, Janeology asks a question that cannot easily be answered: How much of who you are is determined by what your ancestors were?  In some ways this makes me wish I had a Mariah who could tell me the stories of my family.  In other ways, I think I’d rather not know.  Regardless, I enjoyed my time reading Janeology and look forward to reading Karen Harrington’s next novel.

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To buy this novel, click here.

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#82 ~ Escape

July 1, 2008 at 10:33 pm | Posted in Beach, Books, Family, Reading, Religion | 2 Comments
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Cover to Escape

Escape by Robert K. Tanenbaum

It’s been quite some time since I’ve read a courtroom drama/thriller. So, when I was offered the opportunity to read Escape, I eagerly agreed. There is something about procedurals, be they on TV (Law and Order) or on paper that are soothing to me. I know that this does not necessarily make logical sense because quite often those very same things include murder, rape, and other egregious behavior. I guess in the end it’s the way procedurals follow a set pattern that relaxes me the way it does. Escape did not disappoint. It is a well written and nicely paced edition to Tanenbaum’s Butch Karp series.

Escape follows two distinct yet loosely intertwined story lines: the usage of the insanity defense and the struggle from keeping evil forces from taking over the United States. Jessica Campbell, an extremely liberal college professor, suffered from post-partum depression that grew steadily more severe with the birth of each of her three children. After she kills all of her three young children, she finds herself in court facing prosecutor Butch Karp. All the while Karp is preparing to go up against Campbell’s insanity defense, his friends and family work with varying degrees of knowledge, intuition, and good luck to thwart a new attack on New York City that is being planned by Islamic fundamentalists and the Sons of Man, a covert and powerful group of wealthy anglo-saxons hoping to “clean” the American landscape and take over the government. Can a rag-tag group of homeless men, retirees, and various members of Karp’s associates and family prevent another well planned terrorist attack?

This is the 20th installment in Tanenbaum’s Butch Karp series, but I have never read any of his other novels. I didn’t find this an impediment to following the story, getting to know the characters, and enjoying the stories. As with other serials, there were flashbacks to what happened in previous novels to fill in any gaps. I appreciated this information and do not feel that it was excessive enough to bother those who have been following the Karp family and friends all along. Sometimes it’s nice to be given a reminder.

As someone who experienced post-partum depression, I appreciated the way that Jessica’s character was written. I found the descriptions of her emotional suffering realistic. The outcome of the trial, however, was no surprise to me at all. If I were to find fault with this novel, it would be that Jessica’s attorney came off ineffectual in the courtroom and defense witnesses were all very odd characters. To me, it wouldn’t have taken much of a DA at all to run circles around the defense.

I enjoyed reading Escape. In many ways, the book was just that for me – an escape. At just under 600 pages, it’s hefty enough to be the only book you’ll need to travel with on vacation. It would definitely make a great book to read lazily around the pool or while leisurely swinging on a hammock underneath your favorite shade tree.

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To buy this book, click here.

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