Saturday, June 26, 2021

This Shining Life

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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