Monday, March 7, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams

The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams is a complicated book, difficult to read and difficult to review. It is certainly beautifully written and psychologically complex. The plot begins slow; it is thought-provoking and melancholy. Symbolic bird imagery lends a touch of magical realism that eases the reader into the unexplainable events that begin to occur, events that suddenly catapult the plot down horrifying, stomach-turning lines that will make you want to rage, or weep, or both. And yet.

And yet there was something unsatisfying in the way it played into stereotypes while calling them out. The bird imagery took off but landed flat. (Fans of magical realism may disagree.) The clearest truth to emerge was the utter lack of accountability of evil-doers. The protagonist saved the innocent…maybe. Or maybe it was too little too late. She saved herself by skirting the issue and removing herself from the situation, which was, admittedly, the only thing she could do. I can’t blame her for her lack of courage. She didn’t really have a workable option; at least she did what she did, and maybe that was the point.

The Illness Lesson, despite being fictional and containing a dose of magic, highlights a very real, oppressive abuse that not only took place in the past, but goes on in the present day, in guises that are only minimally different. The novel illustrates a lesson that hasn’t been learned.

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