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Bryan Peterson
Glimpse - Carol Lynch Williams 3.5 starsGlimpse is the third Carol Lynch Williams book I’ve read, and my first experience with her verse. I had suspected from the eloquently spare style of The Chosen One and Miles From Ordinary that the author would handle verse effectively, and that theory was borne out by the pared back, sharp poetry used to tell the story in Glimpse. It’s abundantly clear that Lynch Williams isn’t afraid of tackling complex, even controversial topics, having covered polygamy, child abuse and mental illness in my previous reads. However, to her credit – and again aptly demonstrated in Glimpse - the focus is kept firmly on the characters, preventing the story from getting mired down in the difficult subject matter. That’s not to say that Glimpse isn’t a heavy book – because it is, in a way. There were sections of this story I found extremely hard to read and a couple of times I just had to close it for a moment and take a breather. But it’s always evident that the characters are foremost, and that Lynch Williams is telling the story that’s true to them. The blurb of Gimpse references a big secret held by Hope’s older sister, Lizzie. This secret has resulted in Lizzie’s lock down in a mental health facility. Yet it’s not the reveal of this secret that wields the power of the novel, because it’s pretty clear early on in the story what the secret is and what’s really going on. I think most will quickly read between the lines of Hope’s narration, well before the novel makes a black and white statement on the subject. The strength of Glimpse rather lies in the fact that as the reader, we are with Hope as she becomes cognizant of what has happened to Lizzie. This dissonance between our understanding and Hope’s is extremely powerful, as we carry the burden of truth for the majority of the story and have to watch as Hope (who is 12/13) has to shoulder it for herself. The scenes in which Hope’s comprehension of events click into place are actually harrowing to read. I felt sick on her behalf. And that’s where much of Lynch William’s skill as a writer lies – using her confronting topic to depict a brutal dual loss of innocence for the sisters: for Lizzie in the events themselves, for Hope in her dawning awareness and being pushed into a position no child should be forced to occupy. The contrast in their respective experiences of childhood/adolescence is thrown into sharp relief by Lynch Williams’ use of scenes depicting Hope’s friendship with Mari. While Hope’s home life is visibly dysfunctional, she and Mari spend their time talking about boys they like, dying their hair, idolising a male pop singer. It’s this almost halcyon view of Mari and Hope’s journey through puberty that makes the overarching story of Lizzie, Hope and their mother that much more gruelling. While Hope thinks about playing spin the bottle and kissing a boy, readers are uncomfortably aware of how this compares with Lizzie’s reality, and what has been taken from her. I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to call this story chilling. The complete abuse of authority (and pretty much every other kind) is frighteningly not unrealistic. And while the characterisation of Hope and Lizzie’s mother is less dimensional that of the other characters, I think that’s to be expected given the limitations of Hope’s viewpoint. She’s a young protagonist, who has somewhat normalised her situation. She’s occasionally shockingly nonchalant about her mother’s prostitution, though it’s clear she is beginning to develop insight into her situation, especially as it impacts herself and, most horrifyingly, Lizzie. Given the emotional toll this novel exacts from the reader, the ending is not exactly a triumph of epically heart-warming proportions. It left me feeling bruised. But that’s okay. Because it also feels real. It left like the right place to leave Hope and Lizzie, and it offers hope in its resolution. Just a glimpse of it. * * * * *Intense. Review to come..