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[235] Sing Them Home – Stephanie Kallos

SingWhen he asked Larken what was going on and did it seem like the kids at school were avoiding them, she snorted darkly and said, Are you kidding? Nobody wants to see us or have anything to do with us because they all feel guilty about not looking for Mom anymore. I just wish somebody had the guts to come out and say that she’s dead.” [152]

Sing Them Home forays back and forth in time to portray three grown siblings—Larken, Gaelan, and Bonnie, neither of whom is married, who live in the shadow of resolved grief since their mother’s tragic disappearance when they were children. In 1978 a tornado hit the fiction town of Emlyn Springs, Nebraska and swept away with the debris was Hope Jones, mother of the three who was confined to a wheelchair by multiple sclerosis. It’s not difficult to recognize the quirkiness of these individuals—a snobbish art history professor, a libidinous weatherman, and a stuck-up scavenger of inconsequential artifacts. The bouts of magical realism, albeit contrived and extraneous, confirm the inchoate evaluation.

So as Aneira Hope Jones is being borne home on a sudden, supercharged current of energy generated by her living husband, she sees her children not only in what the living refer to as the present moment; she is afforded other views . . . [65]

The novel explores the consequences of protecting the ones we love, as well as living a life of denial after a tragic loss. Hope tries her best to conceal from her children her terminal sickness that deprives her of her faculty of mobility and thoughts. Each of the siblings suffers from a chronic, diffuse psychological discomfort that most likely trails back to the loss of their mother (her death is never allured to, it’s gentrified as having gone up). The unconsoled sorrow defines their lives in a way that their ability to engage in interpersonal relations is snarled. Stephanie Kallos does an impeccable job to make sense of the void between the dead and the living. That they remain in this emotional vacuum well after the conclusion of mourning put them on the fringes of normalcy.

Some people are beset with a terrible disunity of spirit—that is how I think of it . . . These confident selves . . . march on, oblivious to the tender, untended soul at the end of the line, barely keeping up, holding no one’s hand, never reassured, always afraid. [289]

Least pacified and reassured of all is Viney, the assistant to Dr. Jones who becomes his wife and stepmother of the children. The death of Llwellyn Jones revolts all her assurance that she has bound together with the doctor through the rituals of everyday living despite having not tied the knot. She feels guilty of being the intruder to Llwellyn and Hope’s marriage, being opportunistic to as to take advantage of the fact that Llywellyn is bound to Hope out of pity. But over twenty five years Viney is the one who holds the Jones together with her love and affection.

. . . nearly twenty-five years . . . and still I cannot . . . still I feel . . . Was there nothing of her in what he became? Was it always wife and mistress to him, all the way to the end? [190]

Sing Them Home is highly lyrical although the characters aren’t particularly likeable. The siblings are respectively an intellectual snob, a prolific libertine, and a trying crank. The language, however, makes a strong case of their (human) foibles, convincing readers to be patient with them as they sort out their emotions. Along with the painful recollection of Hope’s accident is a series of secrets and betrayals in the family.

543 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

26 Responses

  1. This sounds really good. That is, it sounds like a unique plot, which would be welcome!

  2. This sounds really good. That is, it sounds like a unique plot, which would be welcome!
    BTW I love your blog!

  3. This sounds very good, Matt. Thanks for bringing it to my attention… I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

  4. I hadnt heard of this one before Matt so will now have to do some research into if its in the UK and if my library has it, due to spending out of control amounts on books am on a book buying ban for a while!

  5. I have found that I don’t really have to like the characters to love the book. I didn’t much like Mrs. de Winter or Maxim in Rebecca but they were highly entertaining. I’ve seen this particular book around in the blog neighborhood, and everyone has loved it. Great review!

  6. Thank you for this review. I’ve been wanting to read this book for some time, and you definitely strengthened my resolve to do so 🙂

  7. I love your reviews. The siblings sound much like my aunts (I only have a brother). They did not lose their mother when they were young but experienced other great hardships. There are moments of crankiness but have earned the right.

  8. rhapsodyinbooks:
    For 540 pages, although the story does progress, but I would call it more a character-driven novel. Kallos does a great job not making the book stagnant.

  9. JoAnn:
    Despite its daunting size, it’s a quick read. The different narratives suck you into the book. 🙂

  10. savidgereads:
    Simon,this book was released in Jan 2009 in the US. I’m not sure the release schedule of US titles in the UK. I guess it depends on the distributors. For UK fiction, it can take3-4 months to release here in US. I do recommend this book so if you can get it from the library, do so. 🙂

  11. Sandy:
    Maxim is just burying his head in the cloud. Indecidive, morose, and mysterious. That’s all I’m going to say about him now, because I do not want to spoil your reading pleasure. Speaking of notorious character, check out Shroud by John Banville. The main character Axel is the greatest liar in history. He lies his way through jobs, relationship, and everyday life. It’s heck of fun trying to figure out when he is not lying.

  12. A Bookshelf Monstrosity:
    Yes, this book was recommended to me by two librarians and a friend who reviews book. I can say the same now that I have finished reading it.

  13. christine:
    You will resonate very positively with this book, which is very well written with etched characters. 🙂

  14. Matt,

    I just wanted to say thanks so much for the detailed review of SING THEM HOME – and for all you do to encourage conversation and community among readers and writers.

    The fact that you posted your review on what have been my mom’s 78th birthday is especially meaningful.

    Again, Matt, thanks very much.

    All best,

  15. Your wonderful review has made me move this book up on my list. I’m anxious to meet this cast of characters.

  16. I loved this book! I enjoyed her other book “Broken For You” as well. I agree that the characters weren’t really all that likable, but the story/writing was so well done that I couldn’t help but stick with it.. It only took me a couple days to get through because I was sucked in so much. Great review.

  17. Stephanie Kallos:
    Your comment made my day! The wonderful thing about book blogging is to shorten distance between authors and readers. I’m glad my review(s) serve as a panel for discussion. I look forward to reading your other book, Broken For You. Thanks again for leaving me a comment.

  18. Staci:
    This book just welds magic for me. I am sucked in from the very beginning.

  19. Paige:
    I think the character-driven book just leaves me wanting more. I zipped through it in a few days and this book for sure will stay with me for a long time.

  20. This book is already onto my wishlist! 😀

  21. Melody:
    Enjoy the book. 🙂

  22. I enjoyed this book, although perhaps not quite as much as her first novel, Broken For You. Kallos continued the theme of quirky characters coming together, but you’re right in saying these characters weren’t quite so endearing to the reader.

    But a good read, and I like her writing style.

  23. Becca:
    I’m now planning to get Broken For You. 🙂

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