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Back to the Cocktail Challenge:

Fuzzy Naval – Read a book where a character has amnesia or mental illness (PTSD, depression etc.) or where the past is a significant factor.

For this part of the challenge, I picked up a fairly recent buy for me, Renee Carlino’s Swear on This Life, published in 2016. I think it might have been on someone’s list on this board or recommended by someone here. She is definitely a new author to me.

We start this story with Emiline, an instructor in the writing program at a University in San Diego. She has aspirations of being a writer, but has been too busy running away from all the “interesting” aspects of her life which would be fertile ground for a successful book. As such, she’s kind of spinning her wheels, writing on more superficial topics, while her colleague/roommate gets published. What finally triggers her into action is a new bestseller on the market published by a young man named J. Colby. His story, which we read parts of throughout the first two-thirds of this novel, focuses on the impoverished life of two young kids who are neighbors in a rundown Ohio town. Both are victims of their parent’s neglect and addictions and only have each other. Colby’s story progresses from these kids’ early childish dislike to their growing young love amidst a lot of pain and misery. Emiline’s roommate reads the book and then encourages her friend to do so. When Emiline does, she recognizes immediately that this is her own story and that the author can be none other than her old friend and first love, Jason Culbertson. Although it’s wonderfully written, she’s angry that he’s taken their story and told it from *her* viewpoint, seeming to rob her of her voice. But it also opens up old wounds that she’s been nursing for years and have been holding her back. As she makes her way through the novel, Emiline finally decides to stop burying the past and confront it head on.

I thought this story started out really well. While Emiline is reading the book, we live through her dirt poor upbringing, her angry alcoholic father, and the boy next door who becomes her best friend and fellow sufferer in his own struggling, drug-addicted family. When she’s not reading, Emiline begins to access her current life. Her uninspired attempts at writing. Her jock boyfriend, with whom she has little in common. And, in addition, her growing anger at having her sad childhood exposed for all to read. After she decides to confront Jason – and the feelings still between them – she then decides to finally seek out the parents who abandoned and hurt her in order to finally get it behind her. It’s at this point that Carlino’s book goes off the tracks, meandering through her encounters with the grown-up Jason, her parents, and others in her childhood. I think the least successful of these – for me – was her encounters with Jason. They were so scattershot and unfocused, as they circled each other through the latter part of the book. I didn’t get a real feel for him – or them – the way I did in the book he wrote and was puzzled about some of his stipulated reasons for writing it in regards to Emiline. Still, this was an interesting read, and I do want to try more of Carlino’s work. I’ll give this one a B.


The Cocktail Challenge – 8 down, 2 to go.

Alphabet Challenge – 8 down, 2 to go. (A, B, C, G, H, J, M, & Q)