Unkept by Ericka Clay

This book was sent to me from the author for review. The publisher is Bannerwing Books & you can buy the book on amazon.

As the live-in manager at her father’s funeral home in Burling Gates, Missouri, Vienna Oaks has succumbed to the mediocrity and abject loneliness of her life. Her days are suspended between the mundane and the misery of her clients’ throttling grief, of changing light bulbs, and encountering strangers as bereft as she. But after orchestrating the funeral for a little boy named Parker prompts a severe panic attack, she finds herself at a personal crossroads in which she is forced to confront the pregnancy she’s been hiding, her childhood nemesis, the boy she never stopped loving, and the deep-seated secret surrounding her mother’s death more than a decade before.

In another part of town, Heather Turnbull has just learned from her estranged father that her mother, a lifelong recluse, has died. When making arrangements for her funeral, Heather chooses Oaks Family Funeral home, where she comes face to face with Vienna – the woman she tortured throughout grade school, the woman who has recently had an affair with her husband.

Together, Vienna and Heather navigate through a makeshift friendship born of circumstance and devised to assuage their ambivalence towards motherhood and their tenuous relationship with reality, discovering, in tandem, the art of forgiveness and the will to go on.

With humor and poignancy, Ericka Clay’s debut novel, Unkept, explores the thorny landscape of childhood trauma and the ferocious politics between little girls — and the adults they become.

You know the Bechdel test? The one that says your novel/movie/whatever should have at least two women in it, those women should have names, & they should talk with each other about something other than a man? This book passes that test with flying colors. It was really refreshing to read a story so rooted in what it’s like to grow up as a girl and live like a woman. It rightfully fits into the Women’s Fiction genre.

Both of the main characters felt realistic. Vienna is relatable and is a bit stuck in her life, but still pretty and enviable. Heather is a mean bitch, but has her own self esteem and familial issues. They have balanced personalities that didn’t feel like cookie-cutter characters. As you read, you discover more and more about them, and they continue to grow as the story progresses. At first I got the feeling that the goal for these characters was the classic ‘marriage, baby, etc’ deal, but by the end I was pleased with how the two main characters had changed. They also have some pretty dysfunctional, messed up families that made for an interesting cast of side characters. I also think it’s my duty to tell you that Heather’s husband, and the man Vienna is having an affair with, is named Wyland. Because how can you not love that name? I love the spelling too, very modern take.

There was a great theme of confronting your past and learning to let go. The book is embedded with several flashbacks to Vienna’s and Heather’s experiences as children or in high-school. This was a bit confusing at first because there’s not much indication sometimes when a flashback is occurring, but it was quick and easy to flow back into the story.

The dialogue was a bit day-time-drama for me, but the characters are dealing with very extreme situations. That being said, I thought the number of pregnancies was a bit overboard, by the time you reach the end you feel that every woman or girl in this novel has had at least one pregnancy. A lot of the situations are highly dramatic. We’ve got alcoholics, abusers, teen pregnancies, adult pregnancies, adultery, legal disputes, etc. Basically, everybody’s going through a ton of tough shit. Which is fine, but sometimes how they deal with these problems felt a little unrealistic. There’s a lot going on, plus the whole backstory of Vienna’s guilt from possibly or possibly not killing her own mother. It’s a little overwhelming, more and more issues are added on as the story moves forward, and sometimes it felt like too much at once.

I was also a bit confused about Vienna’s brother. I feel like his part in the story never reached the end of it’s arc. However, I like that the story ends somewhat loosely, not tying everything up with neat little bows, but still giving the reader a sense of a conclusion and satisfaction.

Clay’s writing is distinct and clear. She slides in similes and metaphors that are so spot on you wonder how you never thought of them. She’s very good at creating tangible and visual images for the reader so that you can better experience the intense emotions of her characters. Plus amid all the horrible deaths and stressful situations, Clay’s amazing at making things funny. The small bits of comedy are great and often wonderfully sarcastic. Such as, “Brent would know how to fix that. I mean, maybe not personally, but he can recommend someone to you.”

I also love this line, “leaving Heather to wonder what it was she was apologizing for and why the entire evening consisted of exposing her heart when his was still soundly shielded.” This also comes from a passage that includes the mention of the brilliantly named “Sopchoppy Worm Gruntin’ Festival” so easy to say I loved it.

I look forward to reading more from this writer. She already has three other previous novels, “D” Is For Dysfunctional, Cooper Cooper, and Dear Hearts. She’s also the creator of TipsyLit, a blog with over 12,000 subscribers so I’d definitely suggest adding yourself to that number, her posts are perfection.

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