Monday, August 15, 2016

My take on: If You Left

Every year I read at least one book that I am totally floored by. It's so good, that it's hard for me to find fault. So far this year, If You Left by Ashley Prentice Norton is that book. It might not be the popular opinion, but I loved this book.

Althea and Oliver Willow's marriage is on the brink. Althea suffers from mental illness. She has her somewhat good periods, called the Visions. And she has her really bad periods, called the Tombs. She has been in and out of mental health facilities. She's barely a wife to Oliver. Not that he deserves it. Oliver is controlling and demanding. He's learned to navigate through her struggles. But that's given Oliver a power over Althea, one that he's reluctant to relinquish. He micromanages everything she does. He controls the money. He calls constantly. He wants to know what she's doing at all times. He disrespects Althea at every turn, flirting with other women in her face. It was pretty clear to me that Oliver had cheated on Althea.

Perhaps all of this is Althea's punishment for being such a terrible mother to their daughter, Clem. Although Althea made it clear to Oliver that she never wanted to be a parent, they still adopted Clem as a baby. Maybe this was Oliver's way of creating a normal life. A normal wife. But there's nothing normal about Althea. At just 10 years old, even Clem knows there's plenty wrong with her mother. Clem doesn't even call Althea "mom" or "mommy." To Clem, Althea will always be "Lune." To the outside observer, calling your mother "Lune" could be considered rude but in this family it's a term of endearment.

Clem and Althea don't really have a mother-daughter relationship. They're more like roommates passing in the night. But Althea can see she is losing her family. Does she really want her family? Even Althea isn't sure. Maybe it's time to find out. Althea starts with baby steps, drinking tea in the afternoons and sitting down to dinner with Clem. Then, their annual summer trip to their home in the Hamptons offers an opportunity for Clem and Althea to bond. Althea wants to renovate their Hamptons house, a project she and Clem can do together. The only wrinkle, Althea has to bring along Claire, a wannabe interior decorator who works for Oliver. Althea and Clem can grow closer, but with a chaperone. A chaperone who eventually wears out her welcome. When it's just Althea and Clem, old habits die hard.

Once again Clem and Althea are nothing more than roommates passing in the night. Why? Because someone else dominates Althea's time and thoughts. Someone who makes Althea believe there is more to life than just Oliver and Clem. This all sounds very selfish and callous, but maybe Althea needs to breakaway from Oliver and Clem in order to get better. Althea is a complex woman. She's a woman of privilege, which might stop readers from relating to her. It did with me. As a character, Althea is a horrible person but she made for such good storytelling. I enjoyed this book from end to end!

Rating: O.M.G.

Note: I received a copy of the book from FSB Associates in exchange for an honest review.

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