Full disclosure: I recently took a class from Jacqueline Sheehan, and checked out this book from the library after that class. Despite liking the class and it’s teacher, I can pretty definitively say that it won’ t affect my review, because after reading it, it’s pretty clear to me that I am nowhere near the same zip code as this book’s audience.
Listen, quirk can be done well. Some of my favourite books are high on quirk. But here’s a rule I’ve found helpful in determining the casual user from the habitual abuser: if one of the characters in your book has synesthesia, you’ve overdosed on the quirk. Synesthesia, for those of you don’t know, is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one neural pathway leads to the second, involuntary stimulation of another, seemingly unrelated pathways. The most commonly talked about manifestation has to do with colours – synesthetes tend to apply colour to non-tangible concepts. The letter A as red, for instance, or, in the case of Ms. Sheehan’s character Tess, experiencing pain as a streak of hot orange. You can sort of see why it might be popular among practitioners of a certain flowery style of writing, but in my experience, it never reads as anything but gimmicky in fiction.
Tess the synesthete, however, is just one example. There’s also the main character of Rocky, who gives up her career as a psychologist after her husband dies of a massive heart attack and (only after tossing his ashes in a deep-fryer at his favourite local fish-fry), moves to Maine and takes a job as an Animal Control Warden – how does she qualify, you ask? Well, her husband was a vet, and people in small-town Maine apparently don’t care about work experience. And then there’s the plot in general: you see, while trying to start a new life as Animal Control Warden of Peake’s Island, Maine, Rocky stumbles across a black lab with an arrow sticking out of him, and decides to a) take up archery and b) track down the perpetrator who shot her new foster dog. Oh, and there’s an anorexic neighbor girl in the mix, who heals by sharing the aforementioned dog’s kibble.
All that, right there? A solid argument for a quirk intervention, maybe a stint in quirk rehab. In addition to all of this, the transitions between quirky-Sheehan and serious-psychologist-Sheehan are jarring, and the narrative is not always entirely clear. Despite these things, it is definitely an engaging book with a lot of heart, and I can see how it might be attractive to a certain kind of reader – dog-lovers who, unlike me, don’t mind excessive amounts of quirk (or the occasional dog-voiced narration). I am just not that reader.
Recommended for: See above. People who love dogs and don’t mind psychobabble. Let’s be honest – your mother’s book club would probably really enjoy this book.
Read when: Either after a bout of particularly heavy reading material when you just need to zone out, or when you run out of books while visiting Peake’s Island, Maine.
Listen with: anything from anyone who has ever performed at Lillith Fair.