Monday, August 18, 2008

Self-Portrait With Ghosts by Kelly Dwyer

Self-Portrait with Ghosts tells the story of a woman, Kate, and her daughter, Audrey, who are forced to cope with the the suicide of their brother/uncle Luke. The story is told in alternating chapters, told in the present via Kate/Audrey, and in flashback via Luke. These flashback chapters explain Luke's life and what leads to his suicide. What emerges from this is that Luke is desperately, almost hopelessly depressed, and the rest of the family is plagued by problems too. The result of Luke's suicide is that it ultimately brings the family together, particularly Kate and her estranged sister Colleen. Clearly the saddest character in the book is Luke, who is extremely depressed, to a level that anti-depressants cannot help. He seems, in short, to be wired differently in a way that is incompatible with life. Luke is presented as the kindest and least flawed character. In Dwyer's presentation it's almost as if Luke *has* to die. He's the saintly sacrifice that mends his family's wounds. Luke is kind, he's quiet, he gets along with all of his family members, he's generous. These are all things of which the rest of the family falls short. The irony in the story is that Luke's calmness and kindness are what allow the family to stay divided. His moderating influence preserves the divide. Ultimately, I'm struggling to find the larger point of this book. There's a great deal of sadness, some heartfelt family moments, but there didn't seem to be a larger takeaway. While engaging enough to read, it's not the sort of book that left me thinking about it afterward.

Kelly Dwyer, Self-Portrait with Ghosts (Berkeley, 2000) ISBN: 0425176967


Stonefox (otherwise known as Heidi) said...

I saw one of your comments on another blog and jumped over here to check out your site. Love the header! It seems we have a few of the same interests! :) I enjoyed reading your book review.

Laurie's Mind said...

Thanks, I actually bought the whole blog design package online, because I am an absolute disaster with such things. I got it here:

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Laurie, I don't see anything in your review or in the synopsis of this book at that mentions the state (for our Book Around the States challenge). Is the state relevant to the story? Also, since we are looking for the BEST books about each state, would you say this one fits? Either way, YOU can count it for California, but would you like to at least comment (after I post it) that it isn't your favorite ... or something like that? What do you think?