There are some books that pry long-forgotten memories out of the dusty corners of your brain, unfold them on a table and force you to look at them. Alice Bliss was like this for me.
Alice Bliss is a 14-year old girl who loves her father very much. So when his reserve unit is called up to go to Iraq, her world turns upside down. Although she goes through the motions of her everyday- joins the track team, explores love, deals with the glimpses she gets of the adult relationship between her mother and father, the worry and anxiety she feels for her absent father colours everything she does.
Where do I begin reviewing this? I could talk about Harrington’s interesting decisions when it comes to viewpoint- the book is in third person close, but not always from Alice’s perspective. She flits from character to character, like a butterfly who can read minds. At first this jarred me, but ultimately I think it works. We get Alice’s perspective as well as that of her mother, her grandmother, her best friend Henry. It is like getting a sweeping cinematic landscape shot but inside the brains of the characters.
Or the mounting tension, of seeing each member of the family slowly crumble under the weight of their own grief.
Or maybe how it is a simple book, with a simple plot and yet encompasses all the meat of our everyday- of growing up, of the complexity and simplicity of love. Of how we keep on keeping on even when we don’t think we can…
How each of the characters are flawed, beautiful, believable, from the mother who struggles to keep the family together with varying success, to the little sister who finds refuge in the dictionary and long words.
On a personal note, I read this book in one day, sitting on the couch, crying my eyes out. Though it is true, books have been known to bring me to tears from time to time, none as much as this one. The memories it brought back were of heading back to my class after a dictée and seeing the Base Commander with his arms around my sobbing mother. Of being ushered in the class by my teacher and then minutes later being told to come with her. Of my mother taking me by the shoulders and telling me my father was dead. Of the funeral with all my father’s friends in their uniforms, nightmarish copies of my own father. Of my mother crying in her room in the dark, inconsolable.
Christ. It was a good book. You should read it. It probably won’t slice you in half like it did me.