Tillie Harris's life is in disarray—her husband is away on business, the boxes in her new home aren't unpacked, and the telephone isn't even connected yet. Though she's not due for another month, sudden labor pains force Tillie to reach out to her estranged father for help, a choice that means facing the painful memories she's been running from since she was a little girl.
An extraordinary debut from a talented new voice, Up from the Blue untangles the year in Tillie's life that changed everything: 1975, the year her mother disappeared.
My Take: This one really sneaked up on me. I don't remember what I was expecting when I ordered it, but whatever I expected, this wasn't it. In the same vein as "The Sweet Sadness of Lemon Cake," the writing of this book was a visceral experience. The author creates a story that, for the first 30 pages or so, I easily put down and wondered if she was really just writing a memoir. How else could she possibly know with such clarity how a child seeks relief from her pain by biting and how she feels when her teeth sink into the flesh? Or the intense impulse to act out just to prove that she exists? Then I really got pulled in.
The story is beautifully crafted as the protagonist's past and present is further revealed. Symbolism is used, however not excessively and the author does not beat the reader over the head with the explanations, which I appreciate. Tillie begins with the first pangs of contractions and meanders into her past, when she is 8 years old. Her father is a colonel and lives in army housing. He is precise, orderly, and undemonstrative. Her mother is eccentric and, as revealed early in the book, mentally ill. I'm thinking clinical depression with psychotic features or schizoid personality disorder.
I'm not showing off, I am processing while I am blogging. Nothing is clear cut but everything is relevant. The characters are complex and provide a rich plethora of sensory details that somehow resonate. This is not a shocking book that disturbs the reader with unwanted imagery. Rather, it is the all-American family who are trying to hold it together but each member brings a unique flavor to the family unit. None of the characters are polarized and one dimensional. Tillie's mother is, without a doubt, completely nuts (this is a clinical term, of coursed). On the other hand, I see pieces of her within myself, although I have not been guilty of doing what she did although I do know mothers who have.
Cryptic enough for you? Again, not a stunning revelation but somewhat disturbing all the same. And she wants desperately to protect her children.
Tillie's dad begins as a career Army man but even he can not hold this single dimensional persona. He craves order and solutions. He works with concrete problems that can be solved. He is completely befuddled by his wife's withdrawal yet willing and able to step up to do what he can do. He's a man to mark off his checklist.
Two children are at a crossroads, watching their mother fall apart, Tillie feeling the need to protect and keep her, Phil trying to not be noticed. Will the family survive? If so, how? Will Tillie's need to be noticed recede or escalate? Are the children destined to repeat their parents' paths? If so, which parent?
The story is not shocking. I'd go as far as to rate it as quite clean. Swear words are contained within one chapter. The images conjured by the author are not necessarily disturbing. The identification with each character may push the reader a little off kilter. That's what makes the book so powerful.
Susan Henderson’s UP FROM THE BLUE deftly portrays a family with contradictions we can all relate to—it’s beautiful and maddening, hopeful and condemning, simple, yet like a knot that takes a lifetime to untangle. This is a book that you will love completely, even as it hurts you. It is a heartbreaking, rewarding story that still haunts me. I absolutely loved this book…gushingly, unequivocally, loved it. —Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET.
Thanks to my new best friend, Vanessa, at Harper Collins, 2 of you get a chance to own this one. Fill out the form below and I'll let random.org do the rest.
Ends October 5th.