Friday, December 10, 2010

Healer by Carol Cassela — 304 pgs

Healer: A NovelClaire Boehning is dealing with a lot these days. After a disastrous complication with her husband Addison's new drug research, Claire and her small family are left financially destitute. This is a severe change, as in the days leading up to the disaster, Claire, Addison and their teenage daughter Jory lived a very expensive lifestyle. Now the family has sold their beautiful and spacious home in Seattle and moved to a small farmhouse in rural Washington. Addison is not deterred by these complications and continues to seek funding for his new drug, flying to cities all over the country to meet with entrepreneurs who might be interested in backing him. This leaves Claire to struggle alone at the farmhouse with Jory during a blisteringly cold winter, a winter in which she cannot afford to purchase propane to heat the house. As Claire struggles to make ends meet, she hatches a plan to seek employment as a doctor in the nearby small town. But having given up her schooling after Jory's birth, Claire has not actually been certified as a doctor, and as such can only find work caring for the sick in an underfunded clinic that mainly treats migrant farm workers. Meanwhile, the relationship between Claire and Addison is deteriorating rapidly due to the anger and resentment Claire feels about Addison's financial mismanagement. In addition, issues begin to crop up with Jory, who is not only lonely in her new surroundings, but acting out as she sees her parents' marriage crumbling. In this timely and realistic tale, Cassella shows us the life of one family struggling under the financial burdens that so many today are facing.

Lately I've been avoiding the news and similar outlets where the financial crisis plays itself out day after day for public consumption. It's a hard time for everyone and I don't think I know one person who hasn't felt the crunch in one way or the other. I certainly know that our family has taken some major hits in the last two years, and like many, we haven't fully recovered. You would think that having this mindset, I wouldn't enjoy reading a story about a couple who has to watch it all slip away. In fact, I think Cassella does some very interesting things with this story that keep it not only right on target, but make it very easy to relate to, and sometimes just slides shyly away from making this story too uncomfortable for her readers.

First off, I think that there was something about Claire that made her very easy to understand emotionally for me. Though she wants to be kind and supportive of her husband and daughter, she's burning the candle at both ends and finds herself emotionally raw and frustrated much of the time. I could really relate to that, and though it's sad to say that money can cause this kind of devastation in a marriage, it is ultimately believable, especially the way Cassella portrays it. Part of the problem is that Addison hasn't been transparent when it comes to what has happened to his family's money. He's used their nest egg to bail out his fledgling company and didn't tell Claire what he was doing. This understandably upsets and frightens Claire, and although she loves her husband, there's a deep wound between them that continues to fester throughout the story. I can completely understand where she's coming from. To be blindsided and lose everything without a clue must have been maddening for her, and just what is she supposed to do about her teenage daughter? I felt a lot of anger toward Addison in this story. Although he's a likable enough fellow, I felt he betrayed his family to a startling degree, and couldn't imagine having to be in Claire's position. To forgive him would have been murderously hard for me.

Another main aspect of this story has to do with Claire's work at the clinic. Though she is qualified for the work, it's been many years since she's seen a patient and the language barrier is not the only problem she has when treating them. Many of them are almost destitute and live seasonally at farms across America, harvesting the fruits and vegetables that we see in the grocery store everyday. They're not only underprivileged but have to constantly worry about the border patrol that comes hunting for them. There's no safe place for them and they often go a startlingly long time without medical care. Claire's clinic is always overpopulated and understaffed, and finding a way to treat these people who seem to have no home base or ties to the community is almost impossible. Cassella does a great job of highlighting the problems that immigrants face in America today. It's not a black and white issue, but one with a lot of gradations and hues, and it's an issue that seems to be on the minds of many Americans right now. Cassella is sensitive to the immigrant population as a whole and paints a picture that most people don't think about when they seek to speak on immigration.

I think the part of the book that resonated most deeply with me was the financial struggle Claire and her family was going through, and what it ultimately did to the family relationships. Where Claire was almost irate and scared for the future, plowing ahead determinedly, Addison had his head buried in the sand and refused to see the consequences of his actions. Jory, on the other hand, begins to steal and lie to her parents. These are all very different reactions to the same stimuli but all very believable coping mechanisms. Each is trying to get by in a world that's been changed under them and each can't understand the reaction of the others. This creates confusion among them and the lack of communication between them only heightens this effect. Though I wanted to castigate some of them for the things they were doing, I ultimately realized that they were coping with a trauma, and like a trauma victim, there was no prescribed set of actions and reactions that I could pin them down to. Yes, there was passive-aggressiveness, there was open hostility, and there was secretiveness, but there was also a lot of compassion and understanding when things began to boil down to their basic elements. It was amazing to see the heartache and reconciliation between these three, but for me, the most startling thing to realize was that these people could be any of us. They didn't seem like creations to me but rather like fictional versions of people I might know.

I loved this book for its stark honesty with character creation and for the fact that it highlighted so beautifully one facet of today's economic disaster. In its quest to be relevant, it was also touching and believable in a way that not many other books on this subject have been to me. The book has a lot to say about many different issues and utilizes a great plausibility of character and situation in which to frame this often-told and familiar story. I think this book would appeal to many for various reasons and have to say I'm glad I got to spend the time with these very human characters. Recommended.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

18 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I don't think I could read this: I wanted to punch out Addison just from reading your review! :--)

Amy said...

I'm with rhapsodyinbooks - Addison sounds just horrid. Saying that though the book does sound really interesting. Really great review.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Let me at him! What an ass. But like you said, all of this is a familiar story. While the economic times have forced many people to dig deep, and has made them closer as a result, when someone blows it all away because of their ego in thinking they can do no wrong? No patience for that behavior. But you hear about it over and over again. Great review, again!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I did enjoy this book as well. The husband made me a bit nuts, but the book was very good. Did you read her first book, Oxygen? I loved that one!

Vasilly said...

You wrote such a good review, that all of us dislike Addison now! :-D This sounds like a really interesting and realistic book.

Darlene said...

Yup, Addison doesn't sound like someone to like. This sounds like such a deep and layered novel - very relevant to today. I would like the novel for the immigrant angle as well. This sounds like a novel well worth reading. Great review Heather!

Trisha said...

Typically, I'm not a fan of anything to do with finances. Couple that with Addison and yuck. And yet, you wrote a very appealing review...

Suko said...

Zibilee, this sounds like a very difficult book--to write! Your review is excellent, and I along with others, now dislike Addison.

Claire,"the healer", brings to mind: "physician, heal thyself". It seems as if her family was in need of healing, too, affected by the financial crisis and perhaps something more; this seems to be related to the plight of the destitute, who also need healing in the form of medical care that they cannot afford.

Jenny said...

The husband sounds awful, but the clinic work sounds actually really great. I love reading things like that, when the author's able to treat its subjects with respect.

TheBookGirl said...

I have Oxygen on my bookshelf; after reading your review of this one, I think I would like to read that first. It sounds like the author is quite skilled at both character development and plot elements, but I'm not sure this story appeals all that much to me.
Great review as always Heather :)

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

He used their nest egg to pay for his failing company??? I'm not thrilled about that at all -- who does he think he is? Sounds a little like he's just overly secretive, afraid, or really just has some twisted view of women and their "place?" Maybe I'm making too much out of that event, but I think that's a weighty, weighty issue that a husband could do that to a wife (and vice versa). Drives me nuts!

Jenny said...

Sounds great! I really liked her first book and have had this on my list to pick up.

Nymeth said...

I wonder how many families are currently going through similar things :\ Addison sounds terrible but by no means unrealistic.

Jenners said...

This does sound very realistic ... and I'm sure all too familiar to too many families. Although we've had our own financial crises lately, at least we talk and communicate and work together. It sounds like this family just closes up and all deal (unhealthily) with the issues.

Aarti said...

Wow, I'm glad this book made such an impact on you! I would agree that Addison seems like a complete jerk, but hopefully he comes off slightly more sympathetically in the book- I am sure he was in a pretty bad position as well.

Have you noticed that there are a lot of books these days, fiction and non-fiction, about giving up the "rat race" either by chance or by choice, and going to live in the country? Huh.

Melissa M said...

I hadn't heard of this one before, but it sounds interesting and I love the cover!

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

As exhausted as I am with the financial crisis, this sounds like a good one to me. It's times of crisis that show us what we're really made of and it sounds like that's just what happened here. I can't wait to meet Claire :)

Liz @ Cleverly Inked said...

To me he was plain devious. No matter if his intentions are good. I would kick my husband butt. LOL

I can see how this would be so relatable. Also how easy emotions can flow.

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