This Shining Life by Harriet Kline
6/22/21; 336 pages
Penguin Random House
This Shining Life by Harriet Kline is a highly recommended poignant family drama.
When Rich dies from brain cancer his family must learn to deal with
grief and each other. The novel is written with short chapters that are
from the different points-of-view of Rich's wife Ruth, son Ollie (almost
eleven), sister-in-law Nessa, mother-in-law Angran, mother Marjorie,
and father Gerald. Ollie is on the autism spectrum, and he misses his
dad who provided stability for him and could help him understand the
world. After his dad dies, he is determined to solve the puzzle he
thinks his dad left for him that will explain what it means to be alive.
Ruth is grieving and struggling with depression. Rich brought joy to
her life and she depended on him. Nessa, who was friends with Rich
before introducing him to Ruth, is also grieving but must try to help
Ruth and handle her indomitable mother Angran, who is not only a force
to be reckoned with but also deals with depression and repressed anger.
Marjorie wants to mourn her son and have a relationship with her
grandson, but Gerald is sinking into dementia and makes life even more
challenging and difficult. Angran doesn't help as she steadfastly steps
in-between them. All of them are dealing with numerous emotions and
reactions to Rich's death.
Although all the characters are given room for their voices, Ollie is the heart of the novel since his are the only chapter's written in the first person.
He is greatly concerned with solving his father's puzzle, the answer to
what it means to be alive, but no one seems to be listening or
understanding what he is saying. They also seem to be forgetting that he
also is grieving. The puzzle focuses on the special gifts his dad
picked out and chose for everyone before he died. Ollie was given a pair
of binoculars so he could focus on things. Now he is sure he needs to
determine what connects all the gifts to solve the puzzle
A novel about a grieving family is naturally going to be sad, but Kline also shows how members were trying to help in their own ways. The result is a beautifully written novel about loss, endurance, sorrow, love, and acceptance as a family tries to navigate their journey in grieving and life. The short chapters and even pacing help propel the novel along. Ollie's obsession does become a bit tiresome and repetitive, but that is also indicative of being on the spectrum and how he deals with his emotions. All of the characters are portrayed as complex, unique individuals with unique voices. This character driven, poignant family drama is a fine debut novel.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.
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