Review of Unkept by Ericka Clay
My review of Unkept by Ericka Clay: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I received an electronic copy of this book – per my request – in exchange for my honest review. 🙂
The following is the synopsis provided for the book:
As the live-in manager at her father’s funeral home in Burling Gates, Missouri, Vienna Oaks has succumbed to the mediocrity and abject loneliness of her life. Her days are suspended between the mundane and the misery of her clients’ throttling grief, of changing light bulbs, and encountering strangers as bereft as she. But after orchestrating the funeral for a little boy named Parker prompts a severe panic attack, she finds herself at a personal crossroads in which she is forced to confront the pregnancy she’s been hiding, her childhood nemesis, the boy she never stopped loving, and the deep-seated secret surrounding her mother’s death more than a decade before.In another part of town, Heather Turnbull has just learned from her estranged father that her mother, a lifelong recluse, has died. When making arrangements for her funeral, Heather chooses Oaks Family Funeral home, where she comes face to face with Vienna – the woman she tortured throughout grade school, the woman who has recently had an affair with her husband.Together, Vienna and Heather navigate through a makeshift friendship born of circumstance and devised to assuage their ambivalence towards motherhood and their tenuous relationship with reality, discovering, in tandem, the art of forgiveness and the will to go on.With humor and poignancy, Ericka Clay’s debut novel, Unkept, explores the thorny landscape of childhood trauma and the ferocious politics between little girls — and the adults they become.
One day, many weeks ago now I was checking out some of the blogs I follow. I happened across this crazy lady author I somewhat recently started following from Tipsy Lit. The post I found on this particular day was a call to reviewers and bloggers interested in reviewing her new novel Unkept. I’m not always a women’s fiction fan but as with other genres if the blurb is interesting then we might have something; that’s what happened here. So I reached out to Ericka with a little about me and a link to my blog.
She said sure, here’s my e-book for Kindle!
And now we’re here, my review, honest as promised of Unkept.
From the jump, I think the cover is bland, which perhaps was the author’s intention given the title Unkept, contrasting it with something so simple and clean. But I still wish it gave me more to look at, more to draw me in, and told me something more about this story other than the title and who wrote it. Luckily for the author I was interested by her initial request and the synopsis. Had I of seen this in a store nothing would have drawn me to it.
Nonetheless, I began this book almost immediately after I got it and honestly I wasn’t so immediately in love with it. It didn’t grab me or me it from the start. I felt like there was so much jumping around and I really just wanted to understand what was happening with these two chicks. Luckily for me I read the blurb so I had something to hold on to, and my promise to review meant I was committed.
But unlike some other books I’ve read – just had to say that – it didn’t take too long to be genuinely interested in not only the story but the characters, even if Heather isn’t exactly the type of girl anyone wants to be friends with. Ericka’s style of writing is both artistic and realistic. I love her use of metaphors in creating scenes and building her characters, they had more flavor, more emotion and more real life. I could feel her scenes, placing myself there as the actor or an observer. Here’s some moments I particularly appreciated:
“That one, that one’s called Louise,” he had whispered, playing one of our usual games, naming a bloodied cat in a puddle of light beneath a street lamp. His face recognized what his mouth had said and the tears came because he was in no shape to stop them.” [Louise is Vienna’s mother, a drunk.]
“A thought, buried in her brain germinated and vined its way down her spine and around her limbs.”
“But she couldn’t stick with one train of thought because Loretta’s plastic earrings were having a seizure at the sides of her head, and she could hear ‘Elbie’ steadily humming into the phone in his office.”
“Heather could see her mother’s anguish over her father running off and finding Ronnie, and how Heather used to roll her eyes and pray her mother would grow a pair. It was amusing how the tables jerked when they turned, leaving Heather with her own pair shriveled and out of commission.” [Heather reflecting on being the one with a cheating husband.]
“I sometimes wonder if someone snuck their way up the stairs during a wake and came face to face with my closet, if they would assume I travel, that I go out a lot. That I have someone in my life that likes me in my dresses as much as I do. Or if they’d peg me for a recluse who has taken to online shopping.”
“…I spritz myself with a perfume my father bought last Christmas. He said it smelled like the viewing room when it’s brimming with flowers, and that scent reminded him of me. I just pretend he said, ‘It smells like spring so it reminds me of you.”
“He just sat there and for a few hard minutes, I saw my own grief reflected onto him and I was grateful for the reprieve.” [The moment Vienna’s father finds out she’s pregnant.]
“Heather smiled. She picked it because it was an odd way to name a child, to give her firstborn the burden of everything Heather had ever endured. But her thoughts on the name were changing because it was the sorrowful things that seemed to break open while watching two birds argue over a berry, washing a pair of pink pajamas or stroking her face against Frankenstein’s back. It was the sorrowful things that showed Heather just how beautiful the littlest wins could be.” [Heather’s thoughts on naming her unborn daughter Dolores, which stands for sorrows, oh and Frankenstein is her cat.]
Being someone who loves action/adventure movies like X-Men, the Avengers, Ironman, and the like – including recently John Wick starring yes folks Keanu Reeves – I really appreciated Ericka’s twists and turns in this story. I wanted so badly to get to the end to see how this crazy drama played out. This book felt to me like a reality TV show but better because I didn’t have to wonder how much was scripted, how much drama was forced; point being Ericka made it more real for me than reality TV. Those of us dysfunctional people can certainly appreciate what Heather & Vienna go through (lovin’ the name Vienna, especially the nickname Sausage!). We all know that most dysfunction comes from a time before us but made juicier by us; Ericka does not fail to prove this as Heather & Vienna’s families are no peach pie themselves.
Sometimes in literature I feel like authors can get too poetic (this coming from a poet), basically trying too hard but muddying the story instead. In this story she used just enough metaphor to not only bring the story to life, with all its drama, but also to pull it into a place of introspection and genuine emotion. Life is so full of these OMG, No Way moments but you can’t just write a story about those things and hope they carry themselves. I think an author succeeds when they bring the human into the story and all our crazy – sometimes terrible – decisions. Thus the story carries itself and the drama is an ingredient, super tasty like salt. Nothing ever goes as planned and nothing planned ever just goes. It might seem insane that a victim ever befriend her childhood bully and yet they bond here essentially by what set them apart in the first place. She didn’t dissuade me though by telling some sugar-coated story about how they become best friends and all is well in pony-land.
If you like stories about dysfunctional people and how they manage to function then read this. If you’re interested in what becomes of bullies – especially girls – and the people they bully then read Unkept. If you like a good, realistic, emotionally thought out, sometimes humorous, well-written often poetic chick drama then please read Unkept by Ericka Clay. And Ericka Clay, thanks for sharing this story with us and evoking thoughts about just what would we do? I look forward to following Ericka’s career and her future stories.
Thanks for giving me the chance to review your book, and thank you readers for reading my review! 😀 Cheers to all!
If you’d like to pick up a copy of this novel or want to gather some more information about it please follow this Amazon link. Or if you want to know more about Ericka and her book please also visit her website.