Sunday, April 17, 2011

Song of Renewal

Emily Sue Harvey's debut novel Song of Renewal was difficult for me to read at first. The family portrayed was so perfect that it was almost cloying. However, when the only daughter, a blonde cheerleader and All-American princess, sneaks away to make herself vomit up her supper, it becomes obvious that the perfection is only a brittle veneer. Eliza (the mother) defies (the father) Garrison's wish that Angel (the daughter) stay safely at home on a dark and stormy night. With Eliza's blessing, Angel and her boyfriend go for a drive in the storm; a terrible car accident ensues. The family shatters like glass.

Not only is Angel in a coma, but her boyfriend Troy dies in the accident. The hopes of two families are destroyed, although Troy's family does not come into the story much. Liza, who had a traumatic childhood, is thrust into maelstrom of past guilt and old wounds as she waits to discover whether her daughter will survive. Garrison is confronted with his own past demons. I thought it was annoying of Liza to blame Garrison for everything but I suppose she was speaking from her own guilt, since she was the one who encouraged the young people to go out in the rain. I found her a little spoiled and narcissistic in spite of (or maybe because of) her dysfunctional childhood.

While the tragedy is of the kind anyone would find heartbreaking to read about, I had trouble relating to the characters' ways of dealing with the ordeal. Of course, people have different ways of coping with pain and I suppose becoming more self-absorbed is one way of feeling better. The character I liked the best was Charlcy, Liza's older sister. Charlcy is the one who protected Liza from the abuse of their seriously deranged mother while growing up. Charlcy is the opposite of Eliza in that her life is openly a mess; she does not mince words and lets everyone know what she thinks. The most pathetic character is Angel, who even while she was healthy lived a life of many layers of deception. It is interesting that Charlcy, who bore the brunt of physical and psychological abuse, has it more together than Angel of the perfect family and perfect childhood. Perhaps it is because Angel's parents were trying to work out their unresolved issues through her rather than parenting her in a mature manner. At any rate, Angel's long hospitalization becomes a catalyst for self-examination and the renewal of relationships.

Anyone who enjoys novels with a great deal of psychological introspection will find Song of Renewal to be a rewarding read. I think it would make a fine made-for-television movie on the Lifetime Movie Channel or the Gospel Music Channel.  It is a story of ordinary people getting through extraordinary circumstances with grace and grit, finding courage they did not know they had. Most especially it is about how God can bring good out of anything, a truth of which I for one need to be reminded over and over again.

(*NOTE: Song of Renewal was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.) Share

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