by Jamie Boud
Reviewed 29 April 2022
Jamie Boud illustrates Figurines with skilled sketches guiding us through a story where reality, fantasy, and dreams are interchangeable. Parallel casts are introduced, and four different mothers emerge from the mix, but the story will be told by one mother (Anna) and her biological daughter (Rachel). Sorting the tangled threads of family dysfunction, adopted children, and the specter of mental illness is a tall order. When two very similar narrators (mother and daughter) compete to tell their stories, distinguishing between their voices is a challenge for readers who may get impatient with these ambiguities.
As Rachel and Anna unravel in tandem, there’s a missed opportunity to unpack changing approaches to mental health care. Modern psychiatric methods fail Rachel, who turns to self-medication. Anna, diagnosed in 1955, endures shock treatments to stop the voices in her head. Misguided therapies destroy Anna but failing to treat her is also an abuse. Rachel, fending for herself against depression, receives no professional help and never sees this paradox, ever unable to get better or worse. These themes are obscured by the minutiae of a teenager’s journal and the listlessness of untreated chronic depression.
Figurines is a women’s story, but men direct it. Domineering mothers aside, the plot hinges on the opinions of men in authority. Anna and Rachel both try modeling (and other means) to reassure themselves they are desirable. Anna pines for her brother, Frederick, to rescue her from the male doctors who won’t release her. Rachel’s adopted father repeatedly devalues her. To get started on her quest to find lost relatives, she needs her boyfriend to do the first Google search. But is he a boyfriend? She doesn’t know until he reassures her. It is too late in history to raise these issues without acknowledging decades of feminist activism and the modern movements they inspire. Rachel doesn’t see herself controlled by men, but the book won’t resonate with readers who do.
Boud provides all the pieces of this novel but leaves his readers to make them fit. Long passages of detailed narration demand careful attention, but when the time comes to draw a conclusion, we are left on our own to discover meaning. The author trusts us to make sense of what we are reading. But when readers have that kind of license, they might use it to find a more approachable novel.
Thanks to Reedsy Discovery for an Advance Reader’s Copy of this title. Figurines launches 3 May 2022. This review appeared first on Reedsy.com.