Tuesday, August 7, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Theresa Manning by Mario Almonte

Release Date: April 9th, 2012
Publisher: New Meadows (self-published)
Page Count: 395
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review

A novel about a lost girl and a man without a clue.

The brutal beating of a former lover forces a young businessman to confront the painful memories of his brief and failed affair with her, and the choices he made in life that brought him to her side at the hospital six months later. As doctors struggle to save her life, he must explain to police his role in the violent domestic dispute in which the woman, Theresa Manning, apparently killed her husband. The police want to know why, as she lay bleeding and barely clinging to life, her husband nearby in a pool of blood, the only person she considered calling is a man she supposedly has not seen in nearly half a year.

Theresa Manning is a lyrical and powerful novel about two people trying to find their path to redemption, believing they did not need each other but discovering they needed each other more than they could ever know. One will find redemption in life while the other will find it in death. The novel "hits the literary trifecta of great writing, a compelling narrative, and unforgettable characters." It takes the reader on a journey of discovery as the events of the fateful evening unfold. In the end, is the realization that sometimes redemption is not the final destination in life, but the beginning of another long and equally difficult journey.
What Stephanie Thinks: The weight of Theresa Manning is heavy, both in content—revolving around abusive pasts, abusive presents, and hazardous, self-inflicted downward spirals—as well as in structure—weaving through first meetings, major distractions, and current circumstances. The story moves slowly, but I finished it with a sense of satisfaction, of longing, and even with a slight glimmer of hope.

While Almonte's voice is substantial and highly expressive, the sequence of the book makes this read oftentimes confusing. It is composed mostly of flashbacks that Richard, the narrator, has of Theresa, as he is summoned to her ambulance, which could ultimately become her deathbed. Initially, we as readers do not know why he's there—except that she has requested him, rather than a family member, to come tend to her—or who she is—except that she is an ex-coworker Richard has not spoken to in months—but in a series of harsh recollections and bittersweet musings, these mysteries are slowly unraveled, each memory by painful memory.

The narrative is lush and observant; Richard comes off as an intelligent, poignant character, one who, we discover, isn't as sure of himself as he thought he was. However, his voice is also extremely unreliable, which we discover via his inconsistent ramblings regarding Theresa. This displays exactly what kind of an effect she has on him, which further propels the plot, as well as the riddle of their strange relationship.

As Richard is forced to retell everything he knows of Theresa, as he is forced to probe the deepest and most excruciating trenches of his mind, in hopes of finding clues as to why Theresa has ended up a bloody pulp with no one else to call to, he discovers surprising dimensions of the woman he thought he knew better than anyone else, as well as, even more surprising facets involving only himself.

I wasn't that big on Theresa Manning as a character. She's supposed to be an enigma, someone Richard can't, and never could figure out, but to me, she's just a troubled young woman—no one extraordinary. Yes, she has a rocky past that I sympathize with and a life whose detriment has only her to blame, but I feel she wasn't characterized very well; I feel there should have been much more depth to her, in order for her to deserve the title. The awkward transitions of time (there are no indications of when a narrative is in the past, or in the present, only ambiguous page breaks) also were frustrating for me. But with a little bit of revising, I think this blemish is something that could be easily fixed.

The tragedy of Theresa Manning is that Richard, an intuitive, accomplished man who's known nothing but success until he met Theresa, is aware of the fact that she is bad for him, and that she will break his heart—in more ways than just the intended. His moments with and expectations of her are agonizing, but this is what makes the book such an evocative, lingering read. While the organization needs a little work, and while Theresa isn't THAT brilliant of a woman (I want Almonte to show me, not tell me through Richard, how great she is!!!), overall, Theresa Manning is a complicated, devastating book that I think, with some improvement, could easily become one of the most emotionally-rendering pieces of literary fiction in the contemporary scene.

Stephanie Loves: "I played out the scene of our meeting countless times in my head; I had repeatedly rehearsed my conversation with her as one might pass an iron over a wrinkled shirt, getting out every crease, until I felt satisfied with the final product. There was nothing left for me to do at this point but to plunge ahead through that jungle of possibilities that led to her front door, knowing that these significant encounters can never truly be adequately planned; that no amount of rehearsal ever gets the scene pegged down precisely. In the end, like watching an improvisational show, one was compelled simply to slog along through the long stretches of deadly banality that is one's life to get to these rare, precious moments of exhilarating truth." — so true to life!

Radical Rating: 7 hearts: Not without flaws, but overall enjoyable. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥