Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Quickening by Michelle Hoover — 224 pgs


Book Cover
In this quiet and haunting debut novel, two families living in an early twentieth century farming community begin a dance of fate that will change their lives forever. Eddie Current is a mild-mannered and quiet woman who works the land with the help of her husband, Frank. When one day she is visited by her closest neighbor, the religious Mary Morrow, Eddie is not at all disposed towards friendship. This doesn't stop Mary from becoming an integral part of the couple's lives, much to their chagrin. Mary is focused on appearances and longs to transform Eddie into the kind of woman she wishes her to be. Encroaching upon her home and farm, Mary orchestrates events that leave Eddie confused, angry and unhappy, never realizing that she herself is being changed in frightening and unpredictable ways. Mary, dealing with the complications of an abusive husband and her children who remain chill and aloof to her, longs for someone to understand and appreciate her and reaches out the the local parish priest with disastrous repercussions. When a series of conflicts between the two families pushes them each to the brink of disaster, Eddie and her husband are left shunned and ostracized from their community. Rich in psychological drama, The Quickening roots itself in the consciousness of its readers and delivers a powerful punch of the dark and unexpected.

First off, let me say that this was a slim volume but one that really made the most of itself. It should have been a nondescript premise: Two women on a farm grow to hate each other. And that is what it was about, basically. But to say that's all it was about would be a gross disservice. It was a book about longing and lies, both the ones we tell each other and the ones we tell ourselves. It was a book about recrimination, silence and abuse at the hands of others. The way that this was all neatly rolled up into such an unimposing story was not only masterful, but unique.

Eddie is a typical farm wife. A little haggard, a little overworked, she struggles through the day to day with her loving husband by her side to share the toil. She is unprepared for Mary and wants nothing from her. It almost seemed as though she could see though Mary right towards the misery she would cause in her life. Unfortunately, Eddie is not able to put her foot down and Mary begins her slow encroachment into her life. I think that most of what made this possible was Mary's weariness and anxieties for the future. Though she wanted to have children, she had so far been unable and the thought of her house being devoid of babies was her prime focus. She was so intent on her daily work and worries that she let Mary slip right in under the radar. I think the most interesting thing about this is that she never could muster up the resolve to get her out. Nothing she could do would loosen Mary's hold upon her family, and though Eddie made it very clear that she wasn't wanted, Mary ignored that and kept cajoling the couple.

Mary, on the other hand, was a whole different kettle of fish. A woman who was damaged from adolescence and onward through adulthood, she still had severe issues of entitlement and delusions of grandeur. Mary's own fantasies often took the place of her realities. As a reader, I kept asking myself whether Mary was truly evil or not, and I would have to say Yes. But I wonder, is evil truly the same evil if it is unintentional? Again I would have to say Yes, and that Mary's evil was unintentional at times but still fearsome and awful. I think part of her behavior was a coping mechanism used when times became difficult for her and another part was her inability to see herself for what she really was. The woman grated on every nerve I have because she never stopped to think of anyone but herself. She moved in an almost otherworldly fashion, doing and saying things that were completely selfish and self serving and acting as if her hurts and heartaches were justifiable reasons for her to run roughshod over everyone else. Though ostensibly Mary mostly felt herself to being good deeds and helping others, she never really realized that her interference was not wanted. When Eddie does finally begin to resist, Mary takes things onwards to the next level and steps up her acts of aggression. It was terrifying to get a good look into Mary's mind at times. She was very manipulative and possessed no altruism whatsoever. Mary existed for herself alone and tried to make everyone bend to her will. This is the most dangerous personality type to have in a society like the one in which she lived. Some would probably argue that Mary was a damaged individual and that her flaws came from this damage, but I can't really see that. Mary to me was a tragic figure, but also a viper left to her own devices. I couldn't have sympathy for her because she constantly turned her hurts outward and inflicted them on other people.

As the book winds toward its conclusion, Mary is left alone and scrabbling, once again, for dominance. It is not enough that her lies and delusions have decimated the Currents. She must go onwards, like an automaton, and continue to ruin them to her satisfaction, all in the name of self preservation and self service. The state she leaves Eddie in is deplorable, taking her pride and her dreams from her. It is during this last section that I really saw Mary for who she was. All her grasping had gotten her nowhere and even Eddie manages an escape from her. The lives of both families have been utterly transformed by the powerful hands of fate and the acts of one woman, and things can never be the same. This book, moving between the past of life on the farm and all of Mary's misdeeds and the present where Eddie rehashes it all in letters to her grandson, gives the whole story a feel of weight and heft that might not have been accomplished in any other way, and lets the reader see that frightening past, episode, by episode.

I would definitely recommend this book to a variety of readers. Though the prose and writing is somewhat sparse at times, I felt it really fit the story well. I think the book takes a close look at both of these women and the psychology of not only their personalities, but of the relationship between them. It is a dark tale and one that has no happy ending, but it is both an engrossing and powerful read that shouldn't be missed. An intriguing debut.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

26 comments:

TheBookGirl said...

I'm so glad to see that you liked this one. I read it last year, and was captivated. I thought the characterizations were vivid and that the author really captured the dreariness, desperation and deep isolation of the families' struggle to survive. I think what was most interesting to me was the way the author enabled me to appreciate the sensibilities of an unfamiliar community and way of life. I don't know about you, but I did have a hard time getting into this book at first, but when it took off for me, it really took off.

nomadreader said...

1. I love the new design! It's fresh and fun.

2. I really liked this one too and remember feeling so in tune with my ancestors through it. It felt incredibly authentic. I'm glad you liked it, and I'm eager to see what Hoover does next.

Jenny said...

I agree with Carrie, I love the new design too!! I just noticed it yesterday.

As for the book, it sounds sooo good!! I hadn't heard much about it before this but I'm adding it to my list!

Audra said...

Great review -- what a dramatic, intense sounding book! I spent some of my formative tween-age years in South Dakota and something about that landscape just invites -- begs!! for this kind of dark tension.

bermudaonion said...

Wow, that sounds like quite a story! There are times when I think living in a small community would be wonderful, but when you're ostracized from it, life must be a nightmare.

Darlene said...

Ooooh, great review! This novel definitely sounds like one I'd like! I must add it to the wish list now!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I think I would get mad and/or sad by reading this one! And wanting to kill Mary...

Bailey said...

I listened to the audiobook version of this one last year. It was so engrossing, and I can even slightly recall the tones of Mary & Eddie's distinct voices in my head when I think about it... weird, but that's a sign of a memorable audiobook, I guess! I would definitely read something else that Michelle Hoover writes in the future, but this novel was just a bit too dark and depressing for me. She did a lovely job of capturing the time period and scenery, though.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I think sometimes the psychological reads are twice as creepy as the slasher ones. I can almost imagine what my stomach would feel like while reading this book. But I like that twitchy, achy feeling. Good for the circulation! Ha!

Jenners said...

Hey...I like your new look! Very nice!! I was shocked at first but I love the bold color.

This sounds intriguing. I just hope I never meet a Mary in my life.

Jenny said...

I like the new look! At first I thought I had clicked on the wrong thing, and I went back and reopened from Google Reader. :p It looks great!

Kathleen said...

I love a read that offers this kind of psychological depth with the characters. I would enjoy reading this one and analyzing it as you have. Great review.

Suko said...

Wonderful review, Zibilee. Mary does sound like an evil, selfish character. It sounds as if you truly enjoyed this debut novel.

Vasilly said...

Wow! This sounds like an amazing book! I'm so glad that I own it. You wrote another great review.

Swapna said...

This sounds like a great book. I've had it on my shelf for awhile, seems like I need to pick it up soon!

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

Thanks Zibilee for this. Perhaps this reflects the world we live in now. The way we are gradually becoming egoistic in our dealings. There definitely has to be something in it for us to do what we have to do. If not, it isn't worth doing.

You have piqued my interest and I would be picking it, if I should come across it. Psychological drama is a genre I love to read

Geosi Reads said...

Your descriptions of the book proves that the book could a truely gripping one. Thanks for this.

Trisha said...

Love the new look! (really hoping I'm not like week's behind commenting on this). :)

This sounds like a haunting sort of read which is something I appreciate, especially in my realistic fiction.

Amy said...

This book sounds like it would be difficult to put down, but it also sounds so sad and bleak as to be almost exhausting, do you know what I mean? Eddie and Mary are sound very real and I think I would like and dislike both at different times throughout the book, although I also wonder if Mary is at all likeable. I am very intrigued by this book and the psychological drama you describe. Fascinating!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Wow - your assessment of Mary has me VERY curious .. a viper for whom you have no sympathy, yet a compelling character.

It does seem that the dark/dreary landscape is one of the characters, too.

Thanks for reminding me about this book, I don't yet have it on my to-be-read stack(s), but I remember a flurry of similar attention-getting reviews when it first came out last summer.

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

I love your new layout. It's so colorful. :)

I don't usually read books like The Quickening, but your reviews never fail to grab my interest. I will definitely check this one out.

mynovelreviews said...

This sounds like something I would like. I really like your new design - it looks great!

Marie said...

First of all, LOVE the new blog layout! It looks really great. Second, I'm glad to hear you liked this. I started reading it a while back and gave up on it; maybe it's worth revisiting!

Aarti said...

Wow, this sounds like it packs quite a punch! I have a book that sounds (on a very superficial level) somewhat similar, called The True Deceiver, by Tove Jansson. Haven't read it yet, but I have heard great things about the author. Glad this one exceeded your expectations.

Meg said...

Wow! Not a book I probably would have chosen on my own, but you make it sound incredible. The psychological issues and setting would definitely intrigue me.

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

This sounds so good! I hadn't heard of it before but now I'm very interested.

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