As You Were by David Tromblay

Tromblay takes a no-holds-barred, full-frontal approach to his writing that is immersive and, at times, shocking.

4/5 stars.
ARC ebook, 251 pages.
Read from October 14, 2020 to October 19, 2020.

A big thank you to Dzanc Books who offered me an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When the author learns that his father is dying he decides to write a memoir of sorts, a testament to the brutality that was inflicted on him as a child and as a young man. Tromblay is part Native American, on his father’s side, and after being abandoned by his mother, his grandmother raises him the only way she knew how. Tromblay’s grandmother lived through the reservation boarding schools that Native Americans were forced into, meaning that anything she knew about punishment came in the form of fear and physical abuse. To make matters worse, Tromblay’s father lived with them as well and not only is he an alcoholic but he suffers brain damage from a previous car accident making him extremely volatile and aggressive. Tromblay’s father always said to him, that the day that he could “take him” was the day he had no place under his roof. Tromblay eventually escapes his tormenters and finds himself in the Armed Forces as a young man. While his capacities for violence were put to good use, his experiences inevitably led to further trauma. 

Tromblay takes a no-holds-barred, full-frontal approach to his writing that is immersive and, at times, shocking. The book moves back and forth in time to parts of Tromblay’s childhood to pieces of his adult life and his time in the Armed Forces, often half a world away. Tromblay’s story is a unique coming of age story that discloses so much pain and humiliation and yet it is still an engaging read as the book’s tone is not one of pity. You get the idea that the author has accepted that this is just the way things are, just like a straight-faced soldier who has compartmentalizes his pain.  The story is written in the second person, as the author addresses himself giving the story a poetic and poignant feel, despite its raw content. As a reader you’re drawn to Tromblay’s torment through its honest and direct structure as well as the poetic style that comforts you, as you somehow already surmise the strength behind the author’s words, anticipating a positive outcome. 

“He does die, but it takes you another half-dozen drafts to say what you need to say. With his last breath, the last bit of angst drips out of your pen.”

p.250

Tromblay’s story is less about pain and more about overcoming it by confronting it head-on. It’s about a grieving process unique to those who have experienced traumas by people who were supposed to care for them as well as those affected by war and death. While there are many graphic details in the story that some might find triggering or disturbing, it was all part of a necessary process for Tromblay. His father’s death is an opportunity to release, maybe not forgive, but to let go and move on. 

With his father’s death, Tromblay finds some healing from his past and a future in writing to look forward to. After a decade in the Army, Tromblay went on to pursue his MA in Creative Writing having since published two books, of which this is his second. This book covers so many dynamic themes that it is an approachable story for those that are willing to follow in the author’s disturbing past and hopeful future. I would highly recommend it.

This novel is expected to be available for purchase in February 2021. 

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

“We are all drowning slowly in the tide of our opinions, oblivious that we are taking on water every time we open our mouths.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 386 pages.
Read from December 13 to December 22, 2018.

I was actually hoping to get a copy of this book on Netgalley but when that didn’t pan out my library saved the day. This is the first time I have read anything by Jodi Picoult and I’m impressed with this timely and politically relevant book on a topic that most authors would shy away from.

The lives of regular everyday people, coming from all walks of life are all brought together in this story from one tragedy. The author pulls you in from the first page with this reverse timeline narrative on women’s reproductive rights in America as a gunman has entered a woman’s reproductive centre. Each chapter provides the reader with a different narrative and approach from the people who are trapped inside this terrifying situation. As the timeline reverses from the point just before the climax of the novel you begin to piece together the lives of the people in the centre, the choices that brought them there that day and the how regardless of their views they are all caught up in the same horrific circumstances together.

“Your religion should help you make the decision if you find yourself in that situation, but the policy should exist for you to have the right to make it in the first place. When you say you can’t do something because your religion forbids it, that’s a good thing. When you say I can’t do something because YOUR religion forbids it, that’s a problem.”

It’s obvious that Jodi Picoult did her homework with this novel as she is able to bring in widely conflicting views on one of the most sensitive of topics of our time. In her afterward, she mentions interviewing numerous women who have had abortions as well as staff from clinics.  Each her characters has intensely well-rounded and fully formed perspectives and reasoning for their beliefs and choices and the author does not push the reader in one direction or the other and broaches the topic with integrity and grace.

What I felt was important from this book is that is that it showed some general and very real situations of how many women come to need an abortion service, especially outside of the scary situations like rape, incest or medical necessity, as well as topics of race and why controlling women’s reproduction has become such a violent priority in America.

The reverse timeline worked in building anticipation in the story but I feel that it also created a bit of unnecessary repetition and occasionally, confusion. Overall though the writing style is approachable and easy to read and easily explains this author’s mainstream popularity with her ability to reach such a wide audience. After this novel, I can assure that this won’t be my last Jodi Picoult novel.