I don’t believe my intent is ever to falsify memories, but somehow family and friends remind me, not so kindly at times, that I have “remembered” incorrectly. They, of course, remember the truth, as seen through their eyes. Perhaps the only memories I can really trust are the ones buried deepest, memories that aren’t so much seen as they are felt. It’s those heart-wrenching moments, a series of experiences we don’t realize are intended to be used together, fragments of both joy and utter despair, that make up the whole of our existence.
“Of course – talking truth was one of Papa’s most favorite things in the world, and that was because truth was a shifting thing, according to Papa, which is what made it so interesting…”
Fullbright crafts an intricate narrative, layered with fear, deception, heartache, child abuse, and constant chaos. An aging mansion in Pennsylvania and a missing suite of paintings become the bones binding together this skeleton of a family. The story unravels dramatically in detailed, diary-like accounts, written by three main characters, each representing jagged pieces of the past, the present and the possible future of the Grayson legacy.
Elyse, although just a child herself, becomes protector and maternal figure to her younger sister when her emotionally void mother remarried the tormented, musical prodigy Francis Grayson. Elyse must move past the transgressions of her family members, overcome crippling resentment, in order to find personal freedom. Her tenacious, unwavering love for both her sister and Papa give her the courage to persevere.
“You never know,” Papa always said, “the things you’ll find a use for. Never, ever throw anything away, mein Liebes. Never, ever, ever.”
Before becoming Elyse’s step-father, Francis is discovered to be a musical prodigy by his teacher Aidan Madsen. Francis is mentored by Aidan, providing a much needed male role model and welcome reprieve from the horrible women that raise him. But as Francis begins to hope for happiness, a momentary loss of self-control forces him to run for his life. He is suddenly pushed center stage into the world of jazz and adulthood. But fame, fortune and love are not enough to protect Francis from judgement. He falls from musical grace and the once famous musician succumbs to mental instability, leaving behind the love of his life to eventually marry Elyse’s mother. He spends the rest of his days mourning lost innocence and fearing what he can’t control, while staying mostly inebriated and numb. He avoids accountability at all cost.
“The main thing was I escaped the oppressiveness of Grayson House with normalcy and dreams intact, but of course I didn’t realize either – how could I have?- that normalcy is only perception, and that dreams are merely illusions, not necessarily markers of anything that one intends to make real at all.”
Aidan, Francis’ mentor, is a musician and historian trying to live vicariously through others. His judgement about love and relationships is clouded by his mental and physical isolation. Rather than risk vulnerability, Aidan surrounds himself with relics and paid company. He is blinded by what he sees, ignoring the truth in what he feels. Eventually, Aidan must pull himself out of his darkness and the deceit of others. He must find reparation for the crimes committed by those he had spent a lifetime idealizing, and acknowledge that sometimes staying silent is the biggest crime of all.
“A lump formed in the back of my throat, and I had to remind myself it isn’t my nature to wallow in introspection…But for some, introspection shows up late, if at all. Introspection is the bane of getting old. It’s about coming to grips with loss of youth and vitality, of family, and ways once believed to last forever.”
Individually, these flawed souls might appear weak, perhaps even passed over as pathetic victims of their own undoing and circumstance, however, together, they are a suite of life’s cacophony, drawing us in to their dysfunction. We can’t help but love and hate them in unison, praising their small triumphs in spite of their huge mistakes.
“…every creature is complex and contradictory…not one of us is any one thing through and through. We’re good one minute, bad the next, and anyone who tells you that’s not the way we are is either stupid or delusional.”
I could relate on some level to all of the characters. Fullbright did an excellent job of capturing a picture of society as a mixture of everything. We balance joy, sorrow, honesty, lies, jealousy and gratitude every day. We are the accumulation of not just our past, but the past of the generation before us, shaping not only our future, but the future of the next. And at each crossroads, we must make a decision to be who we are or who we want to be.
“Aidan murmured, “We create in our heads what we want to be…Just like we make up what we need others to be.”
I found Fullbright’s writing style to be poetic and musical, engaging all of the senses. I also found it to be haunting, staying with me days after I had finished reading the book. In fact, the farther back I stood from the passages, the more depth and detail I saw. It’s as if the characters and the story line continued to present themselves, demanding my attention, reminding me of some basic life lessons that should not ever be forgotten.
“It’s a ludicrous expectation for women to have of men, thinking they live to fill their empty spaces.”
This book is not an easy read, it does require attention and the ability to be patient while the story unfolds. Although each chapter is beautifully written, they require one another for the full impact, much like the way a photo-mosaic requires a distance to see the whole picture. I would recommend this book for individual enjoyment, but I do believe it would be an excellent book for a book club. In fact, I will be recommending it to mine.
About the book: “They need to be exercised, hearts do … to keep them strong.” Every family has skeletons, but the Grayson family has more than its share of secrets–and of portraits. Mystery portraits that incite and obscure. Portraits to die for. An unsolved celebrity double murder in Pennsylvania. A girl looking for autonomy. A young man in search of an identity. An older man’s quest for justice. A plot that pulls and twists. Get The Angry Woman Suite through Amazon.
About the author: Lee Fullbright, a lifelong San Diegan, lives on beautiful Point Loma with her Australian cattle dog, Baby Rae (owner of her heart). Her literary mystery, The Angry Woman Suite, was a Kirkus Critics’ Pick, and won a Discovery Award (for literary fiction), as well as a Royal Dragonfly HM, and the award for “Best Mystery” at the 2013 San Diego Book Awards. Lee Fullbright is also the recipient of the 2013 Geisel Award, for “best of the best” at the SDBA. Connect with Lee on her website, Facebook, Twitter, or GoodReads.
*This book review is part of an official book tour with Novel Publicity. I obtained this book through Novel Publicity (Novel Publishing Group, LLC.), for FREE to read and write a review for this Virtual Book Blog Tour. I was not compensated with any money. This is in compliance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.