This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
REVIEWED BY LAURA STANNING
Writing about the death of a child is a really really hard thing to get right. You need to strike a balance between making it realistically distressing but not so excruciating that the reader can’t bear it.
In Suzy McPhee’s novel we meet Marion, a mother struggling to come to terms with the death of her beloved nine-year-old daughter in a hit and run. Confused, angry and displaced, she lashes out at everyone around her until her husband walks out and her friends retreat. Longing to die, Marion discovers that it’s easy to make the decision, but harder to go through with it. And as she slowly picks up the threads of her life and starts again, working through the stages of her grief, a meeting with a strange girl makes her realise that sometimes there’s more to live for than we might think. But even with that knowledge, letting go of her daughter’s death and trying to win back the husband she loves isn’t going to be easy…
There’s so much about this novel that’s really good. I initially found Marion self-centered and pretty irritating, and it was only about a chapter in that I realised that’s exactly how McPhee wants us to see her. Because strong emotion, no matter whether it’s joy or sorrow, does make people selfish. Marion, deep in grief, can’t imagine that anyone could be suffering the way she is and pushes her husband away because she resents him for moving on – for, in her eyes, not caring. Watching the character develop through the book as she moves through the cycle of grief and recovery, seeing her put out the first tiny shoots of life after disaster, is very believable and very moving.
The other characters in the book are just as well written. Initially they only appear in brief moments, mirroring Marion’s inability to focus on anyone outside herself, but as the book goes on and Marion begins to start interacting with people again they become more and more prominent – and sympathetic.
It’s a pity, then, that the last few chapters let the book down so horrendously. I have absolutely no idea why, having written 80% of a thought-provoking and appealing book, McPhee felt it necessary to turn it into a third-rate thriller. I won’t tell you the ending, although I’m tempted to because I really wouldn’t advocate reading it, but suffice it to say the novel comes completely off the rails of reality and McPhee’s delicately constructed alternate world, which really draws you in as you read, is shattered.
If you’re in the mood for a truly well-written tear-jerker you can’t do better than The Other Hand, by the ever-brilliant Chris Cleave, and if you’re in the mood for something something light there are endless options. I don’t know what you’d need to be in the mood for to read The Runaway Wife.