*I received a free copy of this book. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Recipient of the B.R.A.G. Medallion
Blurb: They buried her father at noon, at five she found his journals, and in the time it took to read one-and-a-half pages her world turned upside down… he thought she was a failure.
Every child, no matter what age, wants to know their father loves them, and Tessa Curzio – thirty-six, emerging writer, ex-rocker, lapsed Catholic, defected Scientologist, and fourth in a family of eight complicated people – is no exception. But just when she thought her twitchy life was finally coming together – solid relationship, creative job; a view of the ocean – the one-two punch of her father’s death and posthumous indictment proves an existential knockout.
She tries to “just let it go,” as her sister suggests, but life viewed through the filter of his damning words is suddenly skewed, shaking the foundation of everything from her solid relationship and winning job to the truth of her family, even her sense of self. From there, friendships strain, bad behavior ensues, new men entreat, and family drama spikes, all leading to her little-known aunt, a nun and counselor, who lovingly strong-arms Tessa onto a journey of discovery and reinvention. It’s a trip that’s not always pretty – or particularly wise – but somewhere in all the twists and turns, unexpected truths are found.
This was an intense reading experience, as the novel deals with the emotionally charged issues of family and romantic relationships in the context of a woman whose life is falling down around her.
We follow Tessa from the titular sucker punch of discovering her father’s written poor opinion of her on the day of his funeral, all the way through a complete life crisis involving almost every relationship: family, friends and lover. The trigger of uncovering her father’s duplicitous attitude sets of a domino effect in Tessa’s life which is devastating to witness, but ultimately leads her into a process of change which (it becomes clear) was fundamentally necessary for her to achieve any level of happiness or satisfaction.
The key theme here seems to be how little we can ever really know another person, and at times even ourselves. Tessa is continually surprised by those she thought she was close to, and by her own reactions to events.
Whilst more of an emotional heavy-lift than I usually prefer in my personal reading, I found myself completely immersed in this read; perhaps due to a close identification with the character of Tessa. She is imperfect, making mistakes and misjudgments and continually overreacting, as she feels her way towards becoming the more stable, ‘better’ person that she would like to be. We are even similar ages!
The relationships depicted are real, believable and come with an ache of recognition, and the dialogue is natural (swear-word warning for those who do give a fuck!). There is a real feeling of intimacy akin to wearing Tessa’s skin for the duration of the story.
Not an easy read, but a worthwhile one with an intensely drawn journey from not-ok to doing-better that most of us middle-aged strivers can empathise with.
It was strange to think of him as dead. But it was even stranger, right now, to think of him as alive, sitting at his desk, his door shut to the noise and entreaties of his children, writing. Writing in his damn journal. She felt a flush of both rage and sorrow. Her father…her stupid, dead father.
– Lorraine Devon Wilke, After the Sucker Punch
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