Saturday, June 18, 2016

"If You Left"

All relationships have their ups and downs. For Althea and Oliver Willow, the ups and downs are a bit . . . extreme.

Welcome to the bipolar marriage.

Althea is a thirty-seven year old upper crust Manhattan-ite on the brink of another breakdown—her fifth in nine years. Diagnosed with manic depression, she has spent her marriage oscillating between what she calls “the Tombs” and “the Visions”. Her husband Oliver has been there for her through all of it. It is Oliver who packs her bag for the hospital, who visits during visiting hours after each suicide attempt, and who takes care of their nine-year-old daughter Clem. It is Oliver who holds their family together.
Discharged from the hospital, Althea decides that this summer will be different—she will be the loving, sexy wife Oliver wants, and the reliable, affectionate mother that Clem deserves. This summer, she will be “normal”. When the family moves to their East Hampton mansion for the summer, for the first time in Clem and Althea’s lives as mother and daughter there is no “summer girl” there to pick up the slack when Althea cannot face the reality that comes with being a mother.
But once they arrive, nothing goes according to Althea’s plan. Oliver becomes even more distant, and his relationship with their interior decorator is a bit too close. Clem also seems not to need her as a mother, and Althea finds that getting to know her own daughter is far more exhausting than she had though it would be. Into this scene enters the much younger, attractive, David Foster Wallace-reading house painter, who reaches something in Althea that has been long buried.
Fearless, darkly funny, and compulsively readable, If You Left, is a searing exploration of the limits of family and the unavoidable truth that sometimes in order to move forward we have to destroy the things we've worked so very hard to build.
Author Bio:
Ashley Prentice Norton is the author of the critically acclaimed debut novel The Chocolate Money, and a graduate of Exeter, Georgetown, and the creative writing program at New York University. She lives in New York with her husband and three children.
For more information visit his website at and connect with her on Facebook.
"If You Left examines two of the most complex, compelling topics of our time — marriage and mental illness. With devastating yet loving candor, Norton shows how one mapped onto the other can cause any heart to break, any mind to break open." — Lea Carpenter, author of Eleven Days
"Ashley Prentice Norton's If You Left uses a summer in East Hampton as the backdrop for a brutally honest tale of her protagonist's struggle with mental illness, motherhood, a failing marriage, and her need to fulfill herself as both a woman and an artist." — Charles Dubow, author of Indescretion
"A woman suffering from bipolar disorder reaches a crossroads in her marriage and her life in this irresistible, tightly plotted novel... Norton (The Chocolate Money) writes Althea with a sure hand, unsentimental in her portrayal of a woman who is ruled by her illness and her codependent relationship with Oliver, yet desperately yearns for more. The lean narrative is unflinching, which only makes Althea’s story, and her eventual self-enlightenment, even more poignant." — Publishers Weekly

Praise for the work of Ashley Prentice Norton:
“Gripping, vivid, and moving.” — Isabel Gillies

“A truly gifted new voice in fiction.” — Jill Kargman

“Darkly funny, compulsively readable.” — People

My Review:
"If You Left" is a complex read, but at the same time is the perfect summery, beach read.  Althea has struggled with mental illness for most of her marriage and she ponders the fact that her husband has stuck by her side and why he has done this.  Althea is trying to put forth effort with their adopted daughter and just effort into her life in general, but then she is faced with the realization that it might be too late and also that it might not be what is the best for her. 
I enjoyed Ashley's style of writing as the story just flowed so nicely, but also it was so easy to become a part of the characters' lives.  I liked how the conversations were written, but also what Althea was thinking was shared as well.  Althea couldn't become more real to me, as honestly how many of our thoughts are held in and not spoken aloud; this allowed me to really connect with Althea as I was hearing her, but also knowing what she was thinking.  I liked Oliver's character in the beginning of the book, but as the story went along, I grew less and less fond of him.  Clem's character was created and portrayed so nicely and I enjoyed her interactions with Althea, even though some made me cringe as I hurt for them and their lack of a bond. Yet, this made me feel even more connected to the characters and invested in the story. 
An added side note - this book is for a mature audience, as there is vulgar language and explicit intimate scenes.  Also, the issues that are addressed are geared for more adults as well. 

*Thanks to FSB Associates for the complimentary copy of this book in exchange for a honest review.*

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