Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   In the stirring tradition of The Secret Life of Bees and The Poisonwood Bible, Amaryllis in Blueberry explores the complexity of human relationships set against an unforgettable backdrop. Told through the haunting voices of Dick and Seena Slepy and their four daughters, Christina Meldrum's soulful novel weaves together the past and the present of a family harmed--and healed--by buried secrets.

"Maybe, unlike hope, truth couldn't be contained in a jar..." 

Meet the Slepys: Dick, the stern doctor, the naive husband, a man devoted to both facts and faith; Seena, the storyteller, the restless wife,  a mother of four, a lover of myth.  And their children, the Marys:  Mary Grace, the devastating beauty; Mary Tessa, the insistent inquisitor; Mary Catherine, the saintly, lost soul; and finally, Amaryllis, Seena's unspoken favorite, born with the mystifying ability to sense the future, touch the past and distinguish the truth tellers from the most convincing liar of all.    When Dick insists his family move from Michigan to the unfamiliar world of Africa for missionary work, he can't possibly foresee how this new land and its people will entrance and change his daughters--and himself--forever.   Nor can he predict how Africa will spur his wife Seena toward an old but unforgotten obsession.   In fact, Seena may be falling into a trance of her own. . .

And here's what I thought:   I'm quite sure that my review won't do justice to how good this book is.   I'm still recovering from the nasty virus I got hit with, and I'm not feeling 100% back to myself yet.      This is a beautifully written book, with a continuously alternating set of viewpoints between the different characters.  Each character's voice is distinct.  I had originally worried about being able to keep everyone straight, especially considering that there are 4 daughters to tell apart, but I never had much of a problem.   At times, the book made me a bit uncomfortable, but I believe that was the author's intent --- it's not a happy, everything-is-great kind of story, but it's intriguing and compelling.   The characters are somewhat complex, and at times, difficult to understand.    Amaryllis, the youngest daughter (nicknames Yllis), can see into everyone's souls, which is a kind of double-edged sword.

This is a story that considers identity, and faith, as well as family issues.   When I started the book, I found myself reflecting on another book, Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, which had a similar kind of family in a similar kind of situation.    I found Meldrum's writing to be like a combination of Alice Hoffman and Barbara Kingsolver, two authors I really enjoy, so I enjoyed the story.  However, I've seen a few reviews that compare this story to Poisonwood Bible in a different way, with the reviewer preferring Kingsolver's story.   I would recommend that if you have read Poisonwood Bible, to consider reading this story, as well, because it's not the same story, and is beautifully written ... and thought-provoking, as well.   I was familiar with this author's previous book, Madapple, so I had anticipated I would enjoy this book, as well.

Example of cool writing: "People say joy is infectious, but that's a myth.  It's melancholy that's infectious.  And sneaky.  It skulks about, climbing legs, mounting skirts.  It's particularly active when joy is in the room.  Joy shows up, a sort of humming, and melancholy gets the jitters."  (p. 11)

First sentences:  "Dick is dead.  Seena knows this, of course: her husband is dead.  Yet she keeps expecting him to barrel in, his enormous, gangling self plodding along, a spectacle unaware that he is one."

Thoughts on the cover:  I love the way the color saturates the cover, and how the simple image shows hands cupping a flower that seems to be dropping petals.  Simple, but evocative.

Please note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  As a result of reading an ARC, any quotes/page numbers may differ in the final publication of this book.   This book is available, and was just released on February 8th. 


Julie said...

I've been intrigued by this book because of the cover. The story sounds interesting. The Secret Life of Bees is one of my favorite books. So I will check this one out. I've never read Alice Hoffman before. I know a lot of people enjoy her books. Is there any a book of hers you recommend to read first?

Jen said...

Hi Julie! My favorite Alice Hoffman books are: Blue Diary, The Ice Queen, and Practical Magic. Ice Queen is pretty short, so maybe try that one first. Hoffman's stories tend to bend towards what a lot of people call "magical realism," where there are bits of magical-seeming things mixed in with the ordinary. :)

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