Sunday, April 8, 2018

Book Review: "The Dependents" by Katharine Dion

Gene and Maida Ash were married for 49 years. Gene loved his wife very much, even if he didn't necessarily know how best to show it. But he enjoyed their life together, even if he felt that there were times where Maida didn't express herself fully or let him know how she was feeling—about him, their marriage, their daughter, anything.

He isn't sure how to handle his grief. His daughter, Dary, with whom he has never quite seen eye to eye no matter how hard he tried, returns home with her daughter to try and help him, and Gene and Maida's closest friends, Ed and Gayle, also provide assistance and a sympathetic ear. Trying to think of life without Maida feels strange, although perhaps less stressful at times, and he is unsure of how he will spend his time and energy now that he is alone.

"There were people who told him his grief would diminish, but he didn't believe them. That his father's death was still an experience reverberating inside him after all these years suggested that the distance a person traveled from death was just along a circle, and all it took was one new loss to show you that you were still traveling the same line."

As he begins to think about his life and marriage, he starts wondering if Maida was as happy as he thought she was, if she was actually satisfied with their marriage. He begins to question events in their past, things she said and did, and wondered if he was missing signs she was giving. What was the true nature of Maida's relationship with Ed, since it was Ed who introduced the two of them in the first place? Was she looking for Gene to be more, do more than he was? What is the source of animosity between him and Dary?

The Dependents shifts between the present and the past, providing a look at Gene and Maida's relationship from the beginning, and exploring how Gene tries to deal with the loss of his wife and the anxiety this loss is causing him, since he isn't sure what to think about their relationship any longer. You see Maida through Gene's eyes, and you see his earnestness to be a good husband, yet his initial awkwardness at how to initiate a relationship with her.

This is an interesting look at the cycle of grief, and how in an instant you can go from being with someone to their being gone. The book explores the question of how we can ever really know a person, even if we've been with them forever, and whether you should trust your memories or begin questioning things after the fact, and whether the answers to those questions will be helpful anyway.

Katharine Dion is a really talented writer, and she very effectively captured the emotions that accompany loss, and how the grieving person interacts with others. She also dealt with the struggle between acceptance of grief and still wanting more from life, and whether doing so is a betrayal of the person you've lost.

I struggled with this book a bit because I think it left a lot of questions. What were we to believe about Maida, in the end? Was she satisfied with her marriage and her life, or did she settle? Was there more to her relationship with Gene, or others? And why did Dary have such anger toward Gene? I didn't feel like these questions were settled, which left me in as much uncertainty as Gene, and that isn't entirely satisfying.

This is a good effort for a debut novel, however, and I look forward to seeing what comes next in Dion's career.

NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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