Friday, 14 April 2017

Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz

I have to admit, I struggled with this book. When I first picked it up, the writing style intruded itself too much on my notice, particularly when Nawaz stacked similes, giving us several options for what something was like at a time. Then I put it down for a while, and as often happens, when I came back, the writing had faded into the background (I only find it tends to continue to intrude when it is really REALLY bad.)

From there, I started liking the book a lot more. It's not an easy read, as we deal with two young women who lose both their parents, deal with the teenage pregnancy of one of them and anorexia of the other, culminating in the sister who struggled with anorexia dying of a heart attack in her thirties. (This isn't a spoiler, it's in the first chapter or so.)

It's a lot to deal with, and it's not unrealistic, but once emotions start to run high, after the two sisters are on their own, they just keep...running so high. High verging into shrill. There really aren't leavening moments of the two of them dealing with each other with kindness or compassion. There's no question they love each other, but it's such heightened emotion and fear and pain all the time, and I don't know. It's perhaps not unrealistic, but goddamn is it tiring.

Then we get into the part of the book where Beena, the surviving sister, starts treating her sister Sadhana's heart attack like a goddamned murder mystery, and I started to lose all patience. Let me qualify that. I entirely believe that, enshrouded in grief and guilt, she wants to find a reason for her sister's death. I don't have a real problem with her reacting that way. I do have a problem that everyone else seems to find that totally logical! She keeps saying to people "heart attacks don't just happen" - that someone must have scared her sister or angered her sister, brought on the heart attack. AND EVERYONE SEEMS TO AGREE WITH HER!

You need a counterpoint, a voice of sanity somewhere in this to say "you know what? Heart attacks sometimes do just happen. Particularly when there's a clear record of her having a weak heart." Somewhere, please god.

But then, it's worse, because not only do Beena and all the other characters seem to believe this, the author seems to as well, because by the end of the book, by damn, we find out who caused the heart attack, because heart attacks don't just happen.

Add that to Beena's irrational belief that her son's father is none of her son's business, and her overreaction every time her son is interested in finding out more about him. This is after a decade and a half of her she never telling her son what happened, but somehow just expecting that shrieking at him that it's none of his business should be good enough. Again, I know some people would have that kind of reaction, but Beena's the viewpoint character, and she's just kind of...unpleasant. We have people telling us she's a nice person - her son, anyway, and the guy she's been dating for a while, but really, there's very little evidence of her being someone you'd want to spend any time around.

There's evidence she loves her family, and would take care of them, and has, but she wields that like an edged weapon and lashes out, and man, I do not demand that main characters be entirely likeable, but there were plenty of times I found it actively uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking to be in her head.

Which maybe is what the author is going for, but what the book ended up making me want to do was set up strong boundaries and set it calmly down.

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