Thursday, January 26, 2017

Book Review: "I Liked My Life" by Abby Fabiaschi

There were times when I was a teenager and in my early 20s (back in the dark ages) that I suffered from depression, and I thought about what it would be like to attend my own funeral, to see who would attend and what people would say about me, whether they would be sorry or sad, or how they would react.

In a strange way, I was reminded of those thoughts when I was reading Abby Fabiaschi's beautifully moving debut novel, I Liked My Life.

From the outside, it appeared Maddy had it all. She was a well-read, tremendously intelligent and generous housewife, with a successful husband, Brady, and a beautiful teenage daughter, Eve. Maddy was witty, sardonic, fun to be around, and fiercely devoted to her family, and determined that Eve grow up understanding the difference between right and wrong, and realize the impact of her actions when treating someone else cruelly. Sure, Brady's workaholic nature, his refusal to relax and spend time with her and Eve, and his taking her for granted more times than she'd care to count enraged and saddened her, but for the most part, she is satisfied with the way her life unfolds, which is why it is a tremendous shock to her family, friends, and the community when out of the blue, Maddy commits suicide one day.

But although her life on Earth is over, Maddy isn't quite finished. She watches over Brady and Eve and tries to help them deal with their grief and, perhaps equally importantly, their relationship with each other. She's determined not to let Eve grow up with bitterness and anger, and she refuses to let Brady distance himself from their daughter, to fall into his usual patterns of anger, neglect, and periodic bouts of attention. From wherever she is, Maddy gently manipulates both of them to draw closer to one another; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but she sees how they are both reeling from her sudden death.

The one thing Maddy wants to do is find her replacement, someone who will provide stability and love for both Brady and Eve. And she thinks she has found that in Rory, a teacher with a sparkling personality, an unexplained warmth, and a sarcastic edge, plus Rory is haunted by a tragedy of her own. Can Maddy help shape her family's future before she disappears for good?

Meanwhile, Brady and Eve try desperately to understand what might have caused Maddy to take her own life, and how they might have been responsible. Each deals with grief and anger in their own way, and although they try to lean on each other, they struggle with that, because Maddy was the bridge between them. But as their relationship changes, they both begin to better understand who Maddy was, what made her tick, and how she really felt about her husband and her daughter. That may hurt, but it also the first step they must take if they will ever be able to move on.

This is a tremendously thought-provoking and moving book, but despite the subject matter, it's not overly maudlin. Fabiaschi is a talented storyteller whose finesse belies the fact that this is her debut novel, because the book shifts and changes into something a little different than I expected, something even richer, while in a lesser author's hands this book could have turned into an all-out sob fest.

The characters are much more complex than they first appear, although they're not always sympathetic, and you wonder at times just how much of a martyr Maddy was to put up with Brady and Eve's behavior. But as you see Maddy's side of the story, you begin to understand that, just like life, things aren't always what they appear, and you never really understand the relationship of two people by looking in from the outside.

Sure, this story isn't perfect, and at times things happen a little too conveniently or seem a little too pat. But it was compelling from start to finish, and I really wanted to know and spend time with these characters, and understand their emotions. And I, too, wanted to understand what drove Maddy to her final moments. There are both the elements of the familiar and the unique in this book, and I liked it very much.

NetGalley and St. Martin's Press provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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