Review: Amaryllis in Blueberry
Dick and Seena Slepy have four daughters – Mary Grace, Mary Catherine, Mary Tessa and Amaryllis. They also have a troubled marriage. Dick is deeply religious and so are some of the girls, but Seena is not. Dick thinks he can save their marriage if he moves his family away from Michigan. Since he’s a pathologist, he’s able to go through his priest and get his family an assignment to a clinic in West Africa fairly quickly. They’re only there for a short time before they realize just how broken their family life is and they’re struck by disaster – Dick dies.
The structure of Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum is interesting and unique. It starts with the end of the story – the first sentence is “Dick is dead.” The reader is taken back into the recent past and told the story from the alternating points of view of all six family members, plus two family friends. Each character tells their story in the present tense, except Amaryllis, whose story is told in the past tense, adding another interesting element to the story.
The characters in this book are fascinating. They are each obsessed with something almost to a fault. They harbor secrets and communicate so poorly, they’re a family in name only. Amaryllis is a synesthete which makes the other members of her family so uncomfortable, she’s almost an outsider.
I have to admit that, because of the similarity of their names, I had a little trouble keeping track of the Slepy daughters at first. I ended up making myself a little cheat sheet with each girl’s name and age on it and once I did that, I found that I quickly got lost in the story and was anxious to know the ending. Even with that, Amaryllis in Blueberry is not a book to read quickly. It’s full of nuances, allusions and symbolism, and I’m sure a lot of it was lost on me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the story, because I definitely did. I think this book explores the relationship between religion and the church, among other things, and I found it fascinating.
This was my book club’s read for February and all but two members loved it. Those who didn’t love it liked it a lot. We discussed this book for over an hour, talking about everything from religion to cultural differences to the way secrets can affect a relationship. Most people felt the structure of the book enhanced the story and helped build suspense. Everyone agreed that there was a lot of symbolism and mythological references that we missed throughout the book and two members said they plan to read the book again to try to pick up on them. This book was a hit at our meeting!