These three novels sparkle with the energy of their characters’ struggles, and stand out as some of the best psychological fiction of 2012. They deal with the themes of running away and falling apart, as the characters dare to explore and experience their own frailties, faults and fears. They are also great stories for readers to escape into. As I read them, I was totally captivated by their exotic locations and emotional intensity.
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver begins with a young rural woman’s frustration as she struggles to accept the dull confines of her marriage. Dellarobia’s emotions sing out to us with the rich music of her Appalachian dialect. She is like an exotic bird caged by the limits of her traditional Tennessee town. Emotionally starved, she considers an affair, and she suffers from impulses to run away from her family. Alone on a mountainside, she looks down and sees a “valley of fire,” an event that seems biblical but is actually a frightening sign of nature’s own upheaval caused by climate change: a mass of millions of monarch butterflies, covering the forest in fiery orange as they seek refuge from the weather.
As the town is torn apart by people’s responses to this “miracle,” Dellarobia’s own life rips open as she savors new ideas and experiences. Biologists, journalists, tour guides, and church groups descend on the family’s farmland, and in the midst of this chaos she discovers a way to put back the pieces of her own life and to move forward with strength.
The Forgiven by Lawrence Osborne transports us to an exotic setting in the desert mountains of Morocco which the author Lawrence Osborne knows well, being a nomadic journalist and world traveler. A middle-aged British couple, stagnating in their marriage and careers, are driving a rental car through rural Morocco with little idea of the culture and the desolation that they are passing through. After sniping at each other in a cafe, the husband David orders a bottle of wine and finishes it, and his wife Jo wearily resigns herself to his alcoholic indiscretions.
Back in the car, they head for a hedonistic party given by Richard and Dally, a gay celebrity couple. On the rural road in the gathering darkness, two young men spring out, holding out fossils to sell to the passing tourists…and David’s careless swerve leaves one man dead. The couple arrives with the young man’s body in the back of the car, and find themselves in the midst of an international crowd of revelers. They are invited to enjoy the decadent food, plentiful drugs, and an orgy that horrifies the Moroccan Muslim servants. Soon David and Jo are caught up in a web of judgment and anger, as they must deal with their responsibility under Islamic law and tradition for the consequences of their own behavior. The dead man’s family journey there from their remote village, demanding retribution. As these two vastly different cultures struggle to comprehend each other, people seem to forget their basic humanity.
In Too Bright To Hear Too Loud To See by Juliann Garey, we are invited into the mind-storm of Greyson, a Hollywood studio executive who is barely keeping himself together under the pressure of his job. He is no longer thrilled by celebrity angst and by sharing lines of cocaine at Beverly Hills parties. And it’s becoming harder and harder to hide the storms of his manic depression from his co-workers, his worried wife, and their little daughter. This is a compassionate and vivid portrayal of mental illness, and the author is skilled at portraying Grey’s gradual mental disintegration.
Grey is furious with himself for failing his wife and daughter, and he arranges for them to be financially secure before he decides to flee. The novel follows ten years in Grey’s life as he travels the world and let’s himself “fall apart.” With blinding light and terrifying darkness, his travels lead him through Italy, Israel, Chile, Thailand and Uganda. He tries to find relief by taking risks, and he seeks out danger, edgy sex, and exotic destinations. But even his money cannot protect him from feeling vulnerable and being victimized. The storyline jumps between Grey’s travels and his experiences years later in a psychiatric hospital. He is truly a man who excels at running away, a man who can easily be swept away by the hurricane of his chaotic mind. But when his daughter seeks him out on a journey of her own, Grey begins to take small steps into the unfamiliar realm of the heart.