A subtle feminist novel.
Synopsis of One Big Beautiful Thing by Marie Flanigan: Artist Kate Abernethy is trying to put her life back together after the death of her boyfriend. At first, moving back in with her mother seems like a good way to sort out her finances and re-evaluate her life—instead it proves to be a minefield of doubt and recrimination. Floundering, she pushes herself to take new opportunities so she can rebuild her life and have a second chance at happiness.
My two cents:
Kate Abernathy is an artist but she's always been unsure of herself as an artist. She felt that she had found herself when she was part of a pair, with her beloved Robert. But his tragic death leaves Kate reeling, grieving, unmoored.
She moves back to her hometown and out of convenience, she fills in for her mom - who has decided to take a leave of absence - as an art teacher in the local school run by nuns. Kate starts to get her bearings and things pick up in her new life.
Her path eventually crosses with Aiden, the manager of the nearby bishop's residence, and she finds herself strangely attracted. In a moment of weakness, they both give in to their urges. Their romance becomes a curious push-and-pull -- both are attracted to each other yet both do not want to commit to anything more. Kate feels like she is cheating on her dead boyfriend; Aiden apparently has some deep secret that stops him in his tracks.
In a confluence of art, romance, and self-discovery, Kate starts on her road to healing.
I have to admit that I was a little worried when I accepted this book for review. For one, I'm not big on reading religious fiction and the cover has a crucifix right smack dab in the centre. Secondly, when I did start reading it, I wasn't quite liking the beginning which was quite the contrast to the religious reference on the cover: what is it with mentioning Starbucks, donuts and so much swearing (count how many "f*cks" there are in this book)?
This book sort of blindsided me. I think I was expecting it to be fluffier, funner, less involved. But this is definitely a cut above chick lit. It is an interesting exploration of various themes, but it's all very subtle, and cloaked in chick lit-ish romance and in popular language:
- Art, its creation and its depiction of life, is a running theme. Kate's realizations about herself are reflected in and are reflections of her art. I think this was really well done that I wonder if the author is an artist herself, or she has someone close to her who is an artist?
- This has feminist undertones in its exploration of the powerplay within relationships, of perceptions about race, and in sex. When it got to the point when Kate starts revealing the character of her dead boyfriend and how they related with each other, it clicked for me!
- There was also a religious layer to the story. Having grown up Catholic, I could relate to how religion is so drummed into someone that guilt rears its ugly head with anything that is non-conservative, from the simple act of dressing up to how one conducts their relationships. Kate's tattoos, her pink hair, her relationship with Robert, are all just physical manifestations of her trying to find her own voice.
- And lastly, I found quite intriguing the rift in Kate's relationship with her mother. I enjoyed how the author slowly revealed the circumstances behind the rift and how they came to better understand each other as people rather than as mother and daughter.
While are characters are accessible, relatable and largely believable, a huge strength of this book is Kate as the main character. I especially enjoyed the realism of the exchanges between her, her longtime friend Bunny, and with her mother.
There are also a few sexual encounters described in the book. I felt they were strangely sweet and awkward and didn't detract from the main storyline.
Uh-oh: There are few minor copyediting flubs that I came across (e.g., "site" for "sight").
Verdict: This turned out to be surprisingly good! A character driven novel with a romance that is a cut above fluffy chick lit with its feminist undertones, and its subtle exploration of the themes of art and religion. I'd love to read more of this author's work! Recommended!
I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
- Marie Flanigan's website
- Marie Flanigan's guest post "Why Self Publishing Works for Me"
- My Friday 56 & Book Beginnings post for some quotes