Short Take: I see what you (almost) did there…..
**Note – I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review**
I have been known to dip out of my preferred genres on occasion. Maybe I should spend more time reading Serious Literature, and less time with works that are scary or gory or fast-paced. I think that my tastes are skewed to the point where I might not be the best judge of what is “good”. And the whole time I was reading “Missing Parts”, I just couldn’t get past my own prejudices.
I do want to say, up front, that Ms. Berry attempts to tackle some real, difficult, and timely issues with this book. Societal expectations of mothers are horrifically unfair even to the best of them, and for some women, difficulty in bonding with their children is a genuine issue that most people pretend doesn’t exist. So I have to commend the author for being willing to tackle some very uncomfortable truths.
That said, this book was described to me as a thriller, similar to Gone Girl (we know how I feel about that particular comparison, right?), twisty, fast-paced, and so on. And I just didn’t see any of that. What I saw was “one terrible woman’s journey of self-discovery in which she learns nothing.”
Celeste has a great life in LA – she’s a force to be reckoned with at work, has a perfect partner in stay-at-home dad David, a great group of supportive friends, and a four year old daughter. It’s quite picturesque. That is, until her daughter becomes deathly ill, and the secret that Celeste has been holding onto for years threatens everything in her life.
On the surface, this sounds pretty good. The problem is that Celeste is, quite simply, terrible. We are assured repeatedly that she is very strong, and has always kept everything together, but in virtually every scene of the book, she’s having some kind of breakdown – crying, weeping, sobbing, tears streaming, eyes wet, and whatever other synonym for blubbering you can name. She also throws up frequently, complete with descriptions of the color & consistency. There’s even a bonus fainting spell.
Celeste is pathologically selfish to a degree I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. A big chunk of the book is long, melodramatic, drawn-out exposition of her life, and I swear, the only part of her entire life in which she was happy is when she & her husband were first married, and she was 100% the center of attention in their little family. (I should add, everyone is miserable in all the flashbacks as well.) We’re talking about a person who joins AA, not because she has a drinking problem (not even remotely) but because hearing other people talk about the terrible things they’ve done makes her feel better about herself. Because it’s totally OK to use people in recovery as props, right? Seriously… who DOES that?
There is a big reveal towards the end that should probably make her more sympathetic, but because a lot of it was telegraphed heavily early on, it didn’t have nearly as much impact. Knowing the Big Secret, without it being actually addressed for most of the book, rendered it almost meaningless. Had it been completely revealed up front, it might have made the rest of the story slightly more relatable.
And that’s my other major issue – for all the pages in this book, there just isn’t much story. In fact, the main issues of the book (her child’s illness, possibly a terrible crime) are barely touched on for most of it. There’s a lot of exposition, and more navel-gazing than anything else. Celeste’s only thought for anyone, and I mean ANYONE else is “Gee, I hope they don’t think I’m a bad person!” There’s not one other person whose feelings are ever even considered, other than for the possibility that they might see Celeste as not-perfect.
Sociopaths can be fun to watch, and narcissists can be fun to hate. But there’s hard to find much fun in someone who is just so empty of everything but self-pity.
The Nerd’s Rating: TWO HAPPY NEURONS (and some anti-depressants. Please.)