8/29/2013 - First, let it be known that Equilibrium is chick lit in every sense of the word. If you are a guy, or a woman repulsed by bodice-rippers, you will roll your eyes at portions of this book. Lorrie Thomson employs too many warm gazes and too much body tingling, and an all-too-predictable trajectory tarnishes the storyline, which would have benefited from some twists, some mystery.
Regardless, the Milford author’s debut novel is a likable and poignant look at two dark topics: suicide and mental illness. While initially slow to engage (despite a fabulous opening), it unfolds into a nicely interwoven tale of a mother and daughter navigating the choppy waters of love, mania and death.
The protagonist, Laura Klein, is freshly widowed, with a son, 13, and a daughter, 15-going-on-20. Laura’s husband, Jack, was a writer who killed himself, unable (or unwilling) to cope with the roller-coaster life of depression and mania caused by
As the first anniversary of Jack’s death approaches, Laura’s friends urge her to rent out the studio apartment in which her husband wrote and shot himself. Enter Aidan, he of the warm gazes and body tingling, an impossibly gorgeous, well-muscled and suitably empathetic young stud who also happens to be an emergency-room physician able to connect with brooding, fatherless kids. And single.
Again, an all-too-predictable trajectory.
What works about this book, though, is Thomson’s skill at telling the story through both the eyes of Laura and her daughter, Darcy, who, as much as we empathize with her grief and anger, we want to smack every time she enters the room. You parents of teenagers will understand.
Surly, impudent and haughty, Darcy had a special bond with her dad, who’d read to her Shakespearean sonnets foreshadowing death and was “Extreme Dad” to her “Extreme Girl.”
Unable to maturely process the enormity of an adolescent grief, Darcy seeks relief in the arms (and bed) of a bad boy, and in the constant tearing down of her doting mother. Darcy’s dialogue, both inner and outer, is the spot-on soundtrack of a suffering teenaged girl. (And really, is there any other kind of teenaged girl, even if both parents are neurologically typical and alive?) The back-and-forth between Laura’s perspective and Darcy’s is expertly done and gives warmth and intelligence to what could have been a dark, stolid tale.
In one sliver of genius, Thomson shows us Laura and her son at the cemetery, counting “One Mississippi, two Mississippi,” estimating a storm’s distance, like Jack had taught them. In the next chapter, Darcy is off with her boyfriend and hears the thunder, too, and proceeds to count just like her mother and brother, though miles away. It’s a lovely moment, demonstrating the strong but invisible bonds of family, that which the Japanese call the red thread.
The brother, Troy, plays the supporting role here. Ever the good kid, the one who never gave Laura any trouble, he breaks down on the anniversary of his father’s death, terrifying his mother and sister, who fear that he has inherited Jack’s disorder and will henceforth disrupt their lives as much
as Jack did.
Every good story needs a villain, and it’s unclear if, in this book, the villain is Jack, or his disease. Despite the availability of doctors and medication, Jack failed his family when he failed to take his pills. Without them, he danced between depression and mania, prone to sullen brooding, week-long disappearances, and credit-card-enabled shopping sprees. In one telling scene, Darcy comes across a rack of her father’s sweaters, neatly hung in her mother’s closet. “All 27 of Daddy’s cashmere sweaters remained exactly as he’d left them, lined up in obsessive-compulsive color wheel order: cobalt, blue violet, violet.”
Thomson’s path to publication took eight years and three novels. While she was at work on Equilibrium, one of her three children was diagnosed with schizophrenia, so the book took an abrupt turn into the personal. Her own research on mental health for the sake of her son gave the novel a depth and poignancy that can only come from experience. It will be a comforting and familiar read for anyone struggling with mental health, suicide … and teenagers. B — Jennifer Graham
The kick-off party for Equilibrium will be Sept. 7 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at The Toadstool Bookshop in Milford. Thomson will also be appearing at the Nashua Public Library on Oct. 10 from 7 to 8:30 p.m., an event being held as part of Mental Illness Awareness Week.