Reason for Reading: Intriguing premise
Jane was a loving mother of two, until one day she filled up the sink and drowns her toddler son. She is eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity, but when a prosecutor decides that her husband, Tom is partially to blame, Tom finds himself in a new legal battle he isn't sure he wants to even fight.
Since the disintegration of his family, Tom has just barely been keeping things together, and he wonders if he is partly responsible after all. His new attorney, Dave, has other ideas. He plans to explore Jane's heritage using a clairvoyant to show that Jane was genetically predisposed towards violence, and thus the tragedy was unpreventable. The clairvoyant, Mariah, has the ability to look into the past, and so along with Tom and Dave, they begin to explore Jane's heritage.
There are two distinct stories in this book. One is Tom's narrative, as he goes about trying to pick up the pieces and understand what happened. The other is the exploration of Jane's ancestors, told in first person by each ancestor. Both are compelling and well-written, but ultimately, they don't mesh together quite right. Having a clairvoyant enlighten us about Jane's ancestors is kind of gimmicky, and I had a hard time buying it as a legal defense. But at the same time, I loved the actual stories. Each person's voice was unique, and their stories wove together into a dark pattern.
After Mariah relates a traumatic story from Jane's childhood, I could buy into the idea that Jane's loose upbringing with a terribly irresponsible parent may have contributed to her mental illness. However, I couldn't follow the next logical leap that the bad decisions her ancestors made caused her to be genetically prone to violence. It seemed to take all responsibility from Jane.
Interestingly, considering the fact the book is about Jane, the one thing missing from this book is Jane's voice. Tom tries hard to understand his wife, but he realizes after the murder how little he had really understood her, and we never get to hear Jane's side of it. Tom is presented as an uninvolved husband, who loved his wife, but got caught up with his job and had begun to ignore her. Presented from Tom's perspective, he seems to realize what he did and is now extremely regretful, but I would have been interested to get even a glimpse of how Jane felt about it.
Despite the flaws, I was really drawn into this book by Harrington's writing. She has a grasp on how to give the multitude of characters a unique voice.
Jane's mother as a young woman on the prowl for a husband:
She runs a polished finger under the pink and gold choker necklace resting on her slender throat.Each ancestor is given the chance to appear to the reader at least slightly sympathetic, which is not an easy task to accomplish when they have all contributed something negative to the next generation. Harrington is obviously a talented writer. That said, had she delved into one of the stories or the other, I would have thought it an even stronger book.
A woman can discern a man's level of compassion by reading his response to a story. For example, some article in a newspaper may be helpful.
"Has anyone heard anything in the news lately?" she asks.
"It's all bad," a man named Steve says. "All about the war." Steve is kind, but he is older. Maybe too old. Still, he is a possibility.
"All of it?" she asks. "Isn't there something at least close to home? Something in town?"
"They found a family that was so poor they were sharing one bar of soap," another man offers. His name is Cleveland, and he wears a patch on his shirt that says Cleve. She hasn't decided if she wants to be the wife of a patch-wearing worker. Could she imagine herself ironing over the letters C-L-E-V-E for the rest of her life?