Sunday, May 26, 2013

8 Heart Review: Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum

Amaryllis in Blueberry
Christina Meldrum

Page Count: 368

Release Date: 3 February 2011 (first edition)
Publisher: Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by LibraryThing Member Reviews in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

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

Meet the Slepys: Dick, the stern doctor, the naïve 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...

Review


Embarking on tragedy, Amaryllis in Blueberry is a deep, probing novel surrounding the implications and consequences of neglect, unfaithfulness, and ignorance upon a middle-class suburban family whose fate is redirected as a result of thoughtless actions and their reckless outcomes. As a whole, I feel this book tries too hard to have as profound an effect as The Poisonwood Bible did, with a reference right inside the jacket flap. Now, I've read The Poisonwood Bible and it's one of my favorites; I know Amaryllis in Blueberry is not exactly the same—the themes, morals, and overall effect are all different—but the premise itself is one that cannot be created without being compared: a mother, father, and four daughters are plucked out of Betty Crocker America and plopped into the wilderness that is Africa, and their lives are changed forever.

Here's a line that sums up the Slepys:
[They] are all islands unto themselves, and while each island may have clean water and electricity and toilets that flush, being isolated on an island is lonely indeed.
Each of the characters, while extensively explored and unrooted, are at their foundation, very shallow. I didn't particularly like or dislike any of them. Dick Slepy, head of household, is extremely ordinary and particularly foolish for constantly urging the impossible:
[He] thinks he can will himself a Dane and will his wife affectionate and will his children respectful, [and also] thinks demanding a perfect family, while snapping a photo of what looks like one, is the equivalent of having one.
Seena, on the other hand, is complex and ephemeral, like the angel of death herself, but she's equally out of touch with reality, and so even though Meldrum does fabulously at portraying her mother's perspective, I didn't know whether to have compassion or resentment for her. Seena's actions are the pivot point of the entire novel, and their repercussions will take away breaths, taint souls, smother goodness, stain lives, and stalk her forever; this in and of itself was fascinating to read, fascinating discover how small acts of selfishness and of passion could unravel and destroy what's left of everything.

Stylistically Amaryllis in Blueberry is profuse in description, but still frustratingly vague. While I liked the richness, I found Meldrum's prose too redundant and syrupy at times.

However, in terms of message and delivery, I was awed by the convoluted, conscious way in which the painful truths of the human heart are presented in the backdrop of Africa. The last few chapters will especially consume—and not to mention, confuse—you, so even though it starts off sluggishly, I definitely recommend reading until the very end.

Pros


Fantastic biblical allusions and references to Greek mythology // Gorgeous prose // Vivid, memorable, and well-expressed characters // Poignant, tender message about humanity and society

Cons


Flowery language that isn't as penetrating as it would like to be; I had to reread some sentences several times to get their meanings // Far-fetched attempt at imitating The Poisonwood Bible

Love

... Envy is not green. And rage isn't red hot, and the blues have nothing to do with blue. Envy is more dust-colored, a transparent sort of gray. It quivers, like heat rising. Rage itself is not any shade of red—it's not any color at all. It's a smell, a fried-up fish. Melancholy? The blues? Melancholy's more of a shimmer than any color. And it creeps: blues on the move.

Verdict


Christina Meldrum skillfully examines the exquisite human psyche by bringing to light the importance—and devastation—of deception, hidden meaning, falsified untruths, and verified dismissals; this is what makes Amaryllis in Blueberry thought-provoking, strangely beautiful, and absolutely stirring. While some of the prose was a bit too lavish, and the idea of an ordinary American family meeting its ruin upon being caught up in Africa, unoriginal (Barbara Kingsolver ripoff, hello), in its essence, this book is a rare and startling glimpse at a tragedy turned extraordinary, brimming with perceptive truth and soul Americanflag


8 hearts: An engaging read; highly recommended (x)