Title: The Keening
Author: A. LaFaye
Publisher: Milkweed Editions
Paperback, 224 pages
ISBN 10: 1571316949
ISBN 13: 9781571316943
Born into a family with artistry in their fingers, Lyza laments that her only talent is carving letters into wood. That is until her life is turned upside down when her mother succumbs to the influenza pandemic of 1918, which is devastating their small coastal town in Maine. With her mother gone, Lyza must protect her eccentric father, who runs the risk of being committed, especially now that he claims he’s waiting for the return of his dead wife. Can Lyza save her father and find her own path in the process?
At 14, Lyza lives in a world populated by the spirits her father claims to see - the ones that he carves faces of and sets adrift in boats to the sea. Her mother, an accomplished seamstress, holds the family together - homeschooling Lyza, making the extra money necessary for essentials with her work. Mater's family, the Bradleys, are estranged. They think that Lyza's Pater is crazy and belongs in "the farm" - the insane asylum. As Lyza mentally prepares herself for a trip to Portland, Maine, to take the high school exam, her best friend Jake insists that he has to go with her - he needs to see Portland, a real city.
With the influenza epidemic raging, Lyza and her family are witness to many funeral marches past their house to the graveyard, and father's carving becomes almost obsessive, with Mater needing to coax him back to the house to eat. Suddenly, Mater falls ill, and within a day or so, Pater and Lyza are rowing to an island set a short distance out to bury Mater themselves beside her father. As Pater waits for Mater to come back, Lyza's mission quickly becomes apparent - she must keep the Bradleys from sending her father to "the farm". In her attempts to do so, she uncovers family secrets and an ally she didn't know she had. She also discovers her own strengths and talents.
The writing is ethereal, almost dream-like. At the end, I read the author's note that this story came in a dream, and that the dream-like qualities are purposeful. This is a rather quick, but pleasant read. I liked Pater and Lyza, and was rooting for him all the way. There are some skillfully engineered surprises as well.
That's how Mater came back to Kingsley Cove after college, with a common-law husband, a baby in her belly, and a cut on her forehead - a lifelong reminder of just how dangerous her family could be.
Grief made most folks fade into strangeness. Had it brought Pater to the other side of normal?
"See," he'd said, pointing to a man twisting his arms around like he must be pedaling something, his eyes blank yet staring, his mouth stammering through some list, "Without your Mater, that's how your father would be."
BOOK RATING: 3.0 out of 5 stars
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Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher through Net Galley to facilitate my review. No other compensation was received and I was not required to post a positive review.