Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Once Upon a Day

The lovely people at MotherTalk recently sent me an extremely unusual and interesting book to read. Once Upon a Day, by Lisa Tucker is the tale of a family wracked by violence and the ultimate destruction of the family that ensued. Lisa Tucker has written a story of a family history and interpersonal drama which will consume the reader from the first chapter. This is the kind of book that you honestly can't put down, and will read from cover to cover consumed by what may or may not happen next.

I don't think I can do justice to a plot summary, but I'll try. Essentially, we start out meeting a a family living in seclusion on a New Mexico estate. The father, Charles O'Brian has raised his two children, now in their early twenties, with no contact with the outside world, in 1950's-style clothing, and they worship him and fear the outside world. They never have once stepped off the ranch he calls the Sanctuary. No school, no TV, movies or radio, no newspapers, no visits to town, no visitors except the town doctor, these two children are totally sheltered from the world. All is well until the older brother, Jimmy, who has been questioning his father to no avail about their 'dead' mother, leaves on a quest to find out about their mother. Two years pass, and then he loses touch with the family through his now infrequent letters, and his sister Dorothea heads to Missouri to find Jimmy. She wants to tell him that Dad is very sick and need him to return to the Sanctuary. But things aren't at all as they appear. Jimmy is found in the psych ward of a St Louis city hospital, where he has been self-destructive and living in squalor. Dorothea, who takes the bus to St Louis from New Mexico, is picked up by Stephen, a cab driver who is mourning his own losses. Stephen helps Dorothea to find Jimmy in the hospital, and the brings her to his home, where the two fall in love. But there is a big twist. Dorotheas's Mom isn't dead, and Dad kidnapped his kids two decades ago.

The story involves both the present time and flashbacks of the dissolution of marriage between Charles and Lucy, leading to his fanatic escape into desert seclusion with their two children. Charles Keenan, a famous actor and director, is an unbalanced and controlling man who smothers his family with love and protection. He is so paranoid about things going wrong, people he loves getting hurt, that he smothers his entire family and refuses to let them live normal lives. Because of this paranoia, Charles refuses to let his little son Jimmy ride the bus on a field trip, and accompanies 5 yr-old Jimmy in his Mercedes, riding behind the bus. Meanwhile, Lucy and Dorothea are home swimming when their home is invaded by two robbers. They make Lucy place baby Dorothea in a closet and block it with a dresser. The intercom is on and she can hear her baby as the robbers first ransack the house, and then physically assault Lucy, stabbing her 17 times and beating her to a pulp. Her body is discovered hours later by Jimmy, and after that act of violence, Charles goes completely over the edge with regards to safety, ultimately leaving Lucy and kidnapping the kids and moving into seclusion at the Sanctuary.

Before the kidnapping, Charles actively ruins his young wife's acting career out of his fear and paranoia, which he sees as "love." One can only assume that Tucker started working on this novel well before the current reigning Hollywood couple, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, who pair an somewhat older man with infamous religious values, with a younger actress who seems to be cut off from family and friends, but the parallels are eerie. The parallels are uncanny, even if the characters are different.

Tucker's novel is a powerful dissertation of the exploration of family dysfunction. Again and again, we see the consequences of the effects of dysfunction, from Charles's own childhood relationship with his father, to Lucy's need for a father-figure type husband after her tumultuous childhood and early sexuality, to the effects of Charles's smothering on his own children. Even the way that Lucy and Jimmy learn the truth about their parents' relationship is extremely troubling to everyone involved. Tucker never overtly mentions therapy, but I certainly kept thinking, "Man, every character in this book could use a good therapist at this point in their life."

I highly recommend this book. It was a real page turner, with a somewhat predictable ending, but the story along the way was mesmerizing.

Author's web site: http://www.lisatucker.com/

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Blogger Life As I Know It said...

I just read this book a few months ago and really liked it as well.
Like you said, a little predictable, but still a good read.

31/5/07 9:05 PM  

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