Reviewed by: Pete Barber
Genre: Literary Chick-Lit
Approximate word count: 85,000-90,000 words
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Hayley Linfield has published short stories, essays, and poems. She blogs about writing, marketing, and publishing on her web site. The Truth about Dandelions is her debut novel.
Mara was raised in the town of Nameless somewhere in Canada where her father was a pastor. The story is told in two timelines. One follows Mara’s childhood, and the other gives a snapshot of her as a college student in Toronto.
I read very little literary fiction and even less chick-lit, which casts this book into the far left field of my comfort zone, but I found a lot to like about the story.
The book opens in Mara’s present day. She’s in her early twenties, and sexually promiscuous—on the first page, she wakes up in a filthy bed, in a filthy room lying next to a guy she’s not totally familiar with. The sex, though, is never gratuitous. It, and her other lifestyle excesses, are symptoms of problems buried deep in Mara’s psyche, which left me with an uneasy feeling about her character. I was scared for her. Because although Mara is unhappy with her life and her choices, she keeps following the same path, as though someone else is in charge of her decision making process.
The answers lie in the second thread, where we see Mara growing up in a loveless home and looking up to a father whose literal interpretation of the bible makes him distant and cold. Her mother is weak and disappointed. The author does a stellar job of speaking in a different (more childlike) voice in this thread, which makes Mara’s emotionally barren childhood more poignant. As Mara ages in this thread, she is abandoned by those who should love her, and her current-life struggles and lack of self-belief become more understandable
The writing is crisp, with some lovely imagery. For example, Mara thinks as she walks along the road: “I don’t mind this gusty wind. It seems sure of itself.” How clever to have this confused young woman realize the strength in the wind’s consistency.
Mara’s lifestyle is unpleasant, her choices poor, her self-respect non-existent, yet I always found myself rooting for her. The only character I struggled to accept was Jack, who didn’t ring true to my eye. On odd occasions, the author delved too long into Mara’s inner angst for my taste (although that’s probably a genre issue).
I’m glad I read this story. It sounded some personal notes for me, and isn’t that what good writing is about?
Rating: **** Four stars