Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

A Holly Wreath

A thoughtful review of Unstable Felicity from Sherwood Smith at Goodreads

This book is a holly wreath.

Or, so my first thought when trying to find a way to sum it up. Being visually wired, I always think in image. The Yuletide holly wreath is a circle, the colors are vivid--the dark red of berries, the bright crimson of the bow that signals "holiday!", the deep, deep green of leaves that are so lovely yet can prick you until you bleed.

All of these symbols resonated so strongly for me--for this is an angry book. There were points when it was right up against my limit, but the sheer strength of it, for me, is that this story is never nihilistic.

The King Lear comparison should serve as a signal for the reader familiar with Shakespeare that no, this is not going to be a coy book dancing around the ideas of holiday and family (and Christmas) and shaking that admonitory finger at the reader, exhorting us to be cozy and loving and grateful because the holiday is "all about" cozy and loving (both family and friends) and grateful.

What the story does is examine how these "family values" can be used as weapons, and boy is that right out of Lear.

The book does not scorn family values. Just the opposite. What it does with such deft, vivid, entertaining grace is put the characters in situations in which they have to confront the emotions that usually get shoved away in favor of all the "busy" of a holiday--traveling a long distance because it's expected, hanging lights, decorating a tree, finding the "right" present, being bundled off to pageants, all in expectation of that first picturesque snowfall (or, if you live in an area where I do, looking for pictures of snowfalls).

The story examines with a relentlessly honest eye how emotions can be far more powerful than guns and swords and knives, because they are invisible, often thrust with the hiltless steel of moral superiority--the dark side of "should" and "ought."

It looks at personal responsibility, and expectation and assumptions, and what a family bond means. What friendship means.

What growing up means.

But there is that bow, and the brightness of the berries and the circle of the wreath. This story weaves in bright threads of humor, and even romance, as well as some nods to other storytelling forms in a slyly meta way that I found enchanting.

What the book reminded me of most strongly was the TV show Slings and Arrows, which also navigates the gantlet of invisible knives in its Lear season: intelligent, funny, heartbreaking, heartwarming, cruel, kind, above all interesting as it seeks out the truth of all those family bonds that we are admonished to honor each year at this time, and then in reknitting them with newfound awareness, reminds us of why they are there.

And if you are one of the kind folk who helped me briefly reach the vast heights of #65 in Holiday Fiction (Kindle) on Amazon, would you be gracious enough to leave a review? Some of the sites that Darwin intends to run promotions through require a minimum of ten Amazon reviews, which is the reason we offered a low introductory price to our faithful readers mostly likely to say eloquent and encouraging things. Strategy, friends, strategy!


mandamum said...

Working on getting through and to a review, but I need to complete all my Early Action work for the Common App before the weekend deadline, unfortunately :( I'm almost there! (I have to say, homeschooling high school was mostly really fun and fascinating, but then having to be All The School Personnel at the end of it is really exhausting!!)

Finishing Unstable Felicity can be my dessert and decompression project!

MrsDarwin said...

Thanks so much, Mandamum! Hope all your deadline work completes itself nicely, and that the book is just the right thing to help you decompress.