Title: Amaryllis in Blueberry
Author: Christina Meldrum
Synopsis (Courtesy of IndieBound): “Meet the Slepys: Dick, the stern doctor, the naÏve husband, a man devoted to both facts and faith; Seena, the storyteller, the restless wife, a mother of four, a lover of myth. And their children, the Marys: Mary Grace, the devastating beauty; Mary Tessa, the insistent inquisitor; Mary Catherine, the saintly, lost soul; and finally, Amaryllis, Seena’s unspoken favorite, born with the mystifying ability to sense the future, touch the past, and distinguish the truth tellers from the most convincing liar of all.
When Dick insists his family move from Michigan to the unfamiliar world of Africa for missionary work, he can’t possibly foresee how this new land and its people will entrance and change his daughters—and himself—forever.
Nor can he predict how Africa will spur his wife Seena toward an old but unforgotten obsession. In fact, Seena may be falling into a trance of her own. . . .”
Thoughts: While the synopsis may be reminiscent of The Poisonwood Bible, in actuality Amaryllis in Blueberry is decidedly different. Secrets are at the heart of this novel, as each character, major and minor, pretends to be something he or she is not. These secrets end up driving all major characters to actions that surprise the others and help progress the plot.
The plot itself is intriguing, as the novel opens with Seena as the narrator as the reader quickly discovers that she is on trial for Dick’s death. From those first pages, the reader knows that there is a key point that is missing from Seena’s story. Ms. Meldrum then takes the reader on a ride through all of the characters’ points-of-view to uncover the truth and the complex reasoning behind everyone’s actions. Each change in narrator adds a bit more complexity to the story while uncovering various motives and rational explanations for each’s behavior. It is a fascinating study into the mind of a character, what keeps a character going, and what he or she is willing to hide from others and from him or herself.
Secrets are often the driving force in novels because everyone has them, and everyone will often go to great lengths to protect them. While Ms. Meldrum’s use of each character’s secrets are essential to the family’s eventual move to Africa and Dick’s fate, it is the character interactions that bring heart to the novel. Each character is flawed but not outlandishly so. Each wants to be loved and to find acceptance within his or her own circle of influence – something to which most readers can relate. Added to this dynamic is the idea of religion and its overpowering ability to influence certain behaviors without specifically engaging the mind.
Amaryllis in Blueberry is one of those novels that is steeped in symbolism and allegory, to the point where one reading of the novel is not sufficient to uncover all of the hidden feelings, foreshadowing, and other subtle points. Thankfully, Ms. Meldrum wrote the novel in such a way that each re-read allows the reader to peel back more of the layers of this rather complex novel but an initial read is just as satisfying and surprising in its own right.
Amaryllis in Blueberry is not an easy read, and as you can tell, it is an even more difficult novel to review. There is so much that occurs in the novel that one can spend hours dissecting only the more important aspects of the novel. The language. adjusted for each narrator, is outstanding. Ms. Meldrum excels in differentiating between the older Grace, Catie, Tessa and younger Yllis, highlighting their pain and struggles through a scarcity of words that enhance the overall novel. Unlike The Poisonwood Bible, Amaryllis in Blueberry is a novel that demands the closest attention and rewards readers with an experience that is not just mental but emotional. All of the characters find a way to wriggle under one’s skin and cross that boundary of impartiality in a reader. The end result is a novel that challenges a reader but compensates one’s efforts through breathtaking visuals, subtle emotions and story that forces one to rethink what it means to love.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster for my review copy!