If You Left
By Ashley Prentice Norton
Narrated by Christina Delaine
Publisher: Tantor Media
Publication date Jun 15, 2016
Running time 8 hrs 20 min
Audiobook provided by publisher for review. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
For most of their marriage, Althea has fluctuated between extreme depressive and manic states, and Oliver has been the steady hand that guided her to safety. This summer, Althea decides that she will be different from here on. She will be the loving, sexy wife Oliver wants, and the reliable, affectionate mother their nine-year-old daughter Clem deserves. Her plan: to bring Clem to their Easthampton home once school is out—with no “summer girl” to care for her this time—and become “normal.”
But Oliver is distant and controlling, and his relationship with their interior decorator seems a bit too close; Clem has learned to be self-sufficient, and getting to know her now feels like very hard work for Althea. Into this scene enters the much younger, David Foster Wallace–reading house painter, who reaches something in Althea that has been long buried.
Fearless and darkly funny, If You Left explores the complex dance that is the bipolar marriage, and the possibility that to move forward, we might have to destroy the very things we’ve worked hardest to build.
I was going to use my “ho-hum” icon for this book but I realized that “ho-hum” or “meh”were not strong enough to describe my dislike of this story. Really, I had to create a “Dislike” icon for the very first time.
I liked nothing here:
- The plot was obvious.
- The backstory of the adoptive process was unlikely, no matter how much money the family had.
- The only likeable character was the daughter and she is the person most damaged by the behavior of the story. She is also the only person in the book who is not completely shallow.
That doesn’t mean there was nothing valuable in the story.
I kept thinking of a story I read in high school, THE YELLOW WALLPAPER, “…short story by the American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman (American), published in January 1892 in “The New England Magazine,” “about a man who rents a house in the country so she can recuperate from a “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency (Wikipedia)” after the birth or loss of a child. I seem to recall it differently than its Wikipedia synopsis in that the husband meant to drive her mad. Another story I was reminded of was the play “Gas Light” a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton which gave the term “Gas Lighting” to the psychiatric community.
The treatment and experience of mental illness is not really sensitive — mental illness is not sensitive — rather it is treated with the brutality of how it might feel and how it appears. It is hard to read. My thought was that if it is this hard to listen to imagine how hard it would be to live as this woman does. With all the money in the world it would still be brutal. In the end, I also had a feeling that the husband was a bigger problem for Althea than the mental illness eating her life. But, then again, it was hard to know if Althea’s husband Oliver is a gas lighting prick or if he is as much a victim of Althea’s mental illness as she is.
Did he ever love her at all or was she conveniently well-off enough to help him start his business? I was unclear as to whether they were both monied.
The narration is excellent. It had to be so hard to read this out loud without descending into a state of madness.
I would never have finished this as a print or e-book. Somehow, once I am listening to a book, unless I can’t stand the violence or narration, or can’t track the plot and characters I usually finish it. The author apparently suffers from manic-depression, or bipolar disorder, so can offer insight on what it is like.
If you want to explore a descent into madness with some moments of clarity, and the characters’ soap operatic self-absorption then this is a read you might like. I did not like it at all.