Friday, February 03, 2012

In Spite of all the Damage

I get few chances any more to read new novels, and between all the writing, reading online, and downloading novels, there are even fewer chances for a book, an actual physical book (!) to break through and catch my attention. That is why it is such a pleasure to find a novel that sucks me in so thoroughly that I read it cover to cover in less than two days.

Writing a novel is a massive challenge. To write a novel about abuse, about the confrontation of a haunting past, is even more so.  Novelist Juliet deWal handles it with seeming ease. The novel is paced brilliantly, with the tender touch of a mother, showing consequences without trivializing, with enough magic and love to create a hook without crossing the line into a swooning love story.

Juliet deWal starts 'In Spite of all the Damage' by jumping headlong into the private thoughts of Ivy Jewel, a woman hiding from her life, her family, and her new husband Peter. She has run away from the big city to a house her grandmother left to her on the coast, where she hopes to put herself back together.

Ivy Jewel always runs, from confrontation, and more importantly from an abusive father who haunts her like a spirit, his actions coming back again and again through her life. He is always present, and never there. Running is her pattern, and this time it seems to be the same history repeating itself, despite her now being married. Her conflict is about staying this time, with a marriage that is worth staying for.

Because that is, after all, what 'In Spite of all the Damage'  is. It is a love story, but not in the Hollywood sense of boy meets girl, more in the sense that it is about how love can, and must, heal the wounds of our past, so they will not open when we least want them to.

If it sounds heavy, well, it is, but that is the brilliance of this novel. There is much at stake here, and yet deWal  handles it with a light touch, and the right mix of entertaining neurotic humor and straightforward language. Yet she never backs away from the emotional heavy lifting. I love that 'In Spite of all the Damage' resonates. It made me look back into my own past, sometimes thankful for the loving parents I had, and sometimes sadly to relationships that were fundamentally damaged beyond repair from the start.

If it is, then, a love story, it is about love of our selves, and about love for love's sake, about the love of a marriage that is staying together when all is against it. It made me wonder just how long someone can stand by, on hold, waiting for another to heal. It is powerful, without ignoring the beauty in life and love and dedication that comes with a real marriage. Ms. deWal has portrayed a modern love story, wrapped in a brutally realistic tale of the salvation of a lost soul.

I was disappointed that there was not more. When it comes right down to it, that's the best indication of a good book, isn't it?

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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