The Manicurist by Phyllis Schieber
My Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
I really wanted to love this book. Really. Phyllis Schieber’s short story in The Firefly Dance touched me, and I immediately downloaded The Manicurist in order to enjoy more of her work. The sad part is, I didn’t actually enjoy the book at all. It is a very dark, disturbing, and yet somehow rather boring, account of a wife and mother struggling to overcome (or at least make sense of) her past. As the child of a woman with severe bi-polar disorder, she was often caught up in a role reversal situation where she took care of her mother more than her mother took care of her. And then her mother disappears, and she’s left to be raised by her grandmother. All of this sets the stage for her own emotionally stunted and often cruel behavior as a mother and wife.
Let me make it clear that I usually enjoy character-driven, introspective books that study the Human Condition. Usually. But not so much this time.
To me, the strongest parts of the book were the very vivid descriptions of her mother’s erratic, manic-depressive behavior. The weakest parts were just about everything else. The characters mostly lacked any real substance, and what substance they did have wasn’t pleasant. I wanted to smack Tessa right over the head and tell her to quit her moaning and groaning, grow up, and learn to love and appreciate her own husband and daughter. She never seemed to see she had been given a chance to have a good life, in spite of her rocky beginnings. And she spent inordinate amounts of time reliving every miserable second of her past life, but learning nothing from it.
It could be just me . . . the book received more than just a few 4 and 5 star reviews . . . but when I turned the last page, it was with a sense of relief that the whole thing was finally over. Would I read another Schieber book? Probably. I liked her writing style enough to be interested in seeing what else she can do. But it would definitely depend on the subject matter. I have no desire to read anything else quite this dark, especially since I didn’t get any feeling of overall redemption at the end. Mostly, I just wanted to grab the funniest book in my To Be Read basket and throw myself into it, feet first. Maybe a re-read of Terry Pratchett’s The Wee, Free Men. I could use a few Nac Mac Feegles right about now.
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