Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Review: Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum

✰✰✰½ "Dick is dead." Thus, begins Meldrum's latest novel, Amaryllis in Blueberry. Set mostly in the 1970s, we follow the Slepy family as they escape their secrets and head off to Africa. The Slepys aren't your average family. There's Seena, who is self-absorbed and doesn't pay much attention to her family. Dick, the father, is obsessed with Seena to the point where he must have total control over her. Then there are the three daughters all named Mary, each with their own secrets and rebellions. The youngest, Amaryllis, is different from all the rest. Not only is she dark complected with blueberry eyes, but as a synesthete she sees things the others don't.

As the family grows accustomed to their new life in Africa, each member begins to unravel. Follow the twists and turns of this story to discover how Dick ends up dead as the story begins with the end. This is a book with a little bit of everything: murder, infidelity, secrets, lies, an unplanned pregnancy, and inter-racial relationships. In fact, it's the secrets that propel this story forward.

The Bottom Line: This book moves back and forth between two worlds, Michigan and Africa, and seems to shift time and space with ample flashbacks. It is told from multiple points of view; as the narrators change, the story builds. Each person adds a little piece of the puzzle. At times I found this dysfunctional family to be both fascinating and repelling. While the imagery is vivid and beautiful, I found it difficult to like the Slepy family. This is a challenging read, but worth the effort for those who enjoy contemporary, literary fiction and coming of age tales. There is a strong use of symbolism with references to both religion and mythology. This book was different from anything else I've read, which made it interesting. It would be a great pick for a book club; a reading guide is included with discussion questions and a conversation with the author.

Details: Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum. Paperback published by Gallery Books in 2011. 384 p. ISBN: 978-1439156896 Note: I received a free copy from the publisher for review purposes.

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