Pen and Ink Book Review
January 29, 2009
Whenever I read a book I begin with an open hopeful attitude. After all, it’s one of the most intimate relationships you will ever have with a total stranger, the author. Today I cracked the spine of a new novel by a Canadian writer Pam Bustin called Mostly Happy.
When I began reading I was struck by the forcefulness of the language and the raw innocence of the main character and heroine, Bean Fallwell. I love being drawn in from the first page, unfortunately my excitement began to wane by the time I reached page 20. The story begins with Bean detailing her history and introducing us to her chaotic life and dsyfunctional parents, Prissy and Ritter. This is told from the point of view of a three year old child who speaks and behaves more eloquently and maturely than is possible for any toddler, prodigy or not. However, even though the author mishandled this aspect of the story, I hung in there because quite frankly, something magical had transpired on the pages and I was enchanted. I was particularly struck by the originality of the red Samsonite suitcase Bean takes with her, full of mementos of her life. A daring idea that works beautifully.
The novel is written in a disjointed but relatively chronological order and in any other book this would be annoying and confusing. In Mostly Happy, it’s absolutely neccessary and an act of literary brilliance from Pam Bustin. The character Bean is flippant by turns when discussing such close to the bone subject matter as child abuse, alcoholism and isolation and this remote disconnected attitude is deadly accurate. Anyone who is familiar with this type of dysfunction would agree that the author knows about her subject matter and has expertly mirrored the emotional life of a child caught in the storm of pain and instability.
Bean grows up during the course of the novel and the author introduces new characters with ease and deftly weaves them into the fabric of the tale with expertise. I will remember each and every character because they are so sharply expressed by Ms. Bustin. At the end, the triumph is palpable as a now adult Bean comes to terms with her inner turmoil and past. Make no mistake, Bean Fallwell is not a victim. She is a survivor with incredible reserves of courage and insight whose tenacity inspires the reader to hang on to life, especially when it’s tough.
Although the subject matter is biting and harsh, I recommend this book if you’re looking for a deep and wrenching read, but it must be said that this book isn’t for the faint of heart. Pam Bustin is a compelling writer with an ocean of understanding of the inner workings of relationships and the dynamics of the family. I’ve no doubt we’ll be seeing more extraordinary work of this caliber by Ms. Bustin in the future.
For a biography of Pam Bustin visit: thistledownpress.com
Or visit Pam Bustin at her facebook page: www.facebook.com/pages/Mostly-Happy-by-Pam-Bustin/21329635178
Available at: chapters.indigo.ca
Pen and Ink rating