Starling Days, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, The Overlook Press, 2020, 289 pp
This novel was the April selection of the Nervous Breakdown Book Club. I hesitated to post my review since it was the least favorite of the books I read in August. It features a main character who suffers from depression and was hard for me to read at times but I decided to share what I got out of it because it was important to me.
Mina and Oscar have been a couple for many years and finally marry. Mina is a highly educated young woman who teaches and is working on a PhD in literature, specializing in Greek myths. Oscar works as a salesman for his Japanese father's liquor business.
On their wedding night, Mina attempts to end her life with pills. This we learn in the first chapter when Oscar is called by police to pick up Mina, whom they found at midnight leaning over the edge of the George Washington Bridge, known as a location for suicides.
Oscar decides to move them to London while he does some work there on his father's property, thinking a change of scene will be good for Mina. It does not help much, her depression has it in its grip, her meds are not working, and though Oscar tries to protect her he is becoming overwhelmed.
As the story goes on, it reveals the many early traumas of both. I liked the ways the author described each one's coping mechanisms but the choices both were making made me wonder if they would make it. I grew a little weary of being inside their heads and could not guess whether the ending would be happy or tragic.
I am not sorry I read Starling Days because it helped me understand a few things. I have always had an aversion to the subject of mental illness. It frightens me. After I finished the book I realized that I was raised to repress my own moods and occasional bouts of depression, to pretend I was fine, to keep up with life and family and work duties no matter how I felt.
I guess I am fortunate to also have a strong, even sometimes happy side and to have never succumbed. Currently I have a friend who suffers from depression and have had to figure out how to relate to her when she is overcome. Buchanan's novel gave me insight into and more empathy for my friend.
Some people truly don't understand depression if they've never suffered from it (my husband is an example). Whenever I've mention someone was depressed he would think they should "just be able to snap out of it". I have had occasional lows, I guess most of us do, but never sever enough to think about suicide for sure. I can see how this would be a tough book but, oddly, I am drawn to stories that delves into WHY people sometimes feel there is no other option. My July read: This Little Family; Ines Bayard was one of those books.ReplyDelete
Thank you for sharing this, Diane. I too am curious about WHY this happens to people and I will look into the book you mention.Delete
Sounds like a difficult book but potentially a useful one in this case.....ReplyDelete
In this case, yes.Delete
Seems like a pretty tough read, Judy. Depression, if it takes over your life, must be a terrible thing. I had a truly miserable childhood, with many challenges, but I always strove to get out of it and on to something better. Maybe it's just a molecule or two in the chemistry of people that determines how we cope with it.ReplyDelete
Maybe it is chemistry or fate or love. Maybe it is just random. I wonder if we will ever know.Delete
a doctor of lit and a booze salesman doesn't sound like an idea pairing, actually... depression seems like a reasonable reaction. i get down a bit now and then, but haven't experienced the total blackness of the whole enchilada; i gather it's pretty awful...ReplyDelete
Actually, perhaps I did not make it clear. They both had probably causes and reasons. What I got was more compassion for the condition.Delete
Fascinating review of what sounds like a fascinating book. I think that clinical depression really is an illness and usually has its roots in a biological based. Either way I think think it is good that there are books that address these issues. I think that it is one of the purposes of fiction.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Brian. I do think that this novel is one of the better ones I have read that address the subject.Delete
I also find books like that hard to read, especially right now. I don't love the trend of hopelessness in a lot of domestic dramas. I want hope! But I'm glad this book gave you some insight into your friend and yourself. I too used to cope just fine...until I couldn't. Everybody is different and I'm glad you've been luckier.ReplyDelete
Oh yes, hope is what we crave these days especially. I am grateful for my luck and for certain special people in my life. Insight is a blessing wherever we find it.Delete
Mental illness is receiving more attention than it ever did, and that's a good thing. We continue to deal poorly, or to dismiss, conditions we cannot see.ReplyDelete
The books sounds like a pretty thorough exploration of what happens to one in the grip of depression and how those around them try to help - or not - and to cope with it all. Like, I suspect, many in my generation I grew up in a family where emotions were repressed and not acknowledged and that does create a fertile ground for the growth of depression. With the hindsight of years, I can see that my father probably suffered depression's effects especially in his later years and I regret that I didn't recognize it at the time and do more to try to help him. I do think the tendency toward depression is probably in our DNA and is likely exacerbated by chemical imbalances. My own cure for bouts of depression has always been to spend time in Nature, which frankly doesn't have time for such things and just gets on with it.ReplyDelete
My father was depressive too and now I see what a toll that took on my mother, who had to keep up the happiness somehow for her daughters. Nature for sure is the healer in my whole family. And a good thriller where worse stuff is happening to people seems to do me good. Judging from the comments here, many people have stories to tell about the Black Dog.Delete
I find it difficult too to read these types of books, I had a blip quite a few years back and I’ve been on anti-d’s since. However I’ll admit I doubt I could have read this book then but I’d be able to read it now.ReplyDelete
Thanks for your comment, Heather. Interesting to have you say you would be able to read it now but not then. I'm glad you got the help you needed.Delete
Mental illness/& addiction can be tough to understand and hard on the people around the person. I lost 2 friends in the past 5 years to it ... and their problems lasted for a decade or more .... exhausting ... and sometimes you do everything in your power to help for years but nothing in the end works ... it seems up to the person. Anyways from the novel ... I can see where it'd be weary to be in their heads too much / too many traumas.ReplyDelete
My husband lost a family member. My friend told me it made a difference just to get an email from me every couple days. One of the things in the book is that Mina could not tell Oscar what she needed or wanted from him while in the grip of her depression and that made me so anxious.Delete
I find these book hard to read than other genres, still, I find them interesting.ReplyDelete
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