The Children’s Crusade
By Ann Packer
(Scribner Book Company, Hardcover, 9781476710457, April 7, 2015, 448pp.)
The Short of It:
This novel has normal written all over it and yet it’s the most unsettling story I’ve read in a while.
The Rest of It:
The story opens with the promise of young love. Penny and Bill begin their lives together. He’s a doctor, she’s an artist and the home they buy holds the promise of happiness to come. They have four children, Rebecca, Robert, Ryan and James. All should be golden but that last child is not like the other children and his behavior and presence is a constant reminder that you cannot control everything and for Penny, this proves to be too much. She moves out of the house and into a shed in the backyard. The shed, her “studio” becomes a home for her, a home away from her children and her husband and her responsibility as a mother.
What makes this story so unsettling is how they all react to it. Bill seems to know exactly what is going on but is in denial. The children, old enough to know that things are not right, talk about a crusade to bring her back. But how do you bring back a woman who wants nothing to do with who she is?
I had a really hard time with this one. Mostly, the subject matter is what did me in because the writing itself was really quite good. Penny, is a hard one to understand and Bill, oh man, I was so frustrated with Bill. As large families tend to do, they do come together in times of crisis but everyone seems to dance around James and all of his problems. As a reader, I didn’t feel as if we spent enough time with the children as children. They grow into adults quite quickly and so I was left with a sense of longing… lost childhood and all that. Penny was so elusive and odd and although I did manage to see another side to her towards the end, I felt that it came too late.
I didn’t love this story but this isn’t the kind of story anyone loves. It’s frightening to see a family in this light and Packer does an excellent job of throwing it all under the microscope. No one in this novel stands out as a hero. Everyone is flawed and unflattering in some way. It’s a book full of faults and if Packer intended for it to be that, then she succeeded in a spectacular fashion. How do the events of our childhood shape who we are today? Lots to consider while reading this one.
Overall, I didn’t care for the story or the characters in it but there’s something there that deserves to be pondered a bit more.
Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss
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