Have you ever been so close to another person that you no longer know where you end and the other person begins? Some people might find this to be a good thing, but in Karen Brichoux’s wonderful new novel, Separation Anxiety, Wichita Gray isn’t too sure about that. For almost as long as she can remember, Jonah LiaKos has been her closest friend in the world. They are so close that Wichita worries that her identity is drawn entirely from her existence with Jonah and she feels the need to learn who she is without him.
Wichita and Jonah grew up together in a small prairie town. With each hailing from a troubled familiy, the two spent their childhood relying almost entirely on one another and, after graduating from high school, the pair moved to Chicago; both now work in the same museum. As the book opens, Wichita finds herself adrift. She feels as if everyone sees “Wichita and Jonah” rather than simply knowing them as individual people. She allows herself to drift along for a while, but the tension with Jonah gets to be too much for her and she eventually decides to do something to split them apart. However, even as Wichita thinks she knows what she wants, she is at a loss how to accomplish it. After all, how can you break up with a guy when you’re just friends in the first place?
In addition to the tense situation with Jonah, Wichita also finds herself caught in the middle of a new family drama. Her troubled teenage sister Geena has come to Chicago, expecting Wichita to take her in. Wichita’s time with Geena forces her to face her family and her memories of them, helping her to make more sense of her life.
This novel is extremely well-written. The story loops back and forth between action in the present and related memories from Wichita’s past and, while at first the shifts in time are somewhat jarring, as the story unfolds, Wichita’s memories give a valuable added dimension to her present life. Many of the patterns established in her childhood continue to play a major part in the decisions she is now making about family, friends, and relationships in general.
The action in this story is more internal than external, with the journey here more emotional than physical. Brichoux does an excellent job of bringing the reader into the inner lives of her characters, making for a very touching novel. As Wichita goes about her life and makes choices for herself, she is constantly in tune with what has gone before. This book is more about making sense of families, relationships, and personal identity than about dating, job angst, or any of the more customary Chick Lit themes. In this sense, Separation Anxiety is very similar to books normally classified as Women’s Fiction.
As Wichita and Jonah initially start to drift apart in the very beginning of the book, it is difficult to tell where Wichita’s crisis of identity comes from and, therefore, the book moved a bit slowly. However, as she reveals more of her past, the reader’s connection to Wichita becomes stronger and her story far more compelling.
Separation Anxiety is ultimately a very touching tale about relationships and finding identity. Wichita is an appealing narrator, and lovers of both Chick Lit and Women’s Fiction will find plenty to like here. Brichoux has a very unique voice and I will enjoy seeing more from her.