one of my goals for 2016 includes more reading and less netflix. i find this is easier said than done, but i’m proud to say i’ve read more books since january 1st than i read during the whole of 2015, and we’re still in Q1, so i’m counting this as a win already. reading is so much more enriching and fulfilling than watching television (unless you’re watching two of my favorites, 60 minutes or the west wing and then i’d argue it’s totally worth it), and i find it more relaxing as well.
as part of this goal, i’m thrilled to share that i’ve teamed up with the incredible ladies at she reads as a member of their blog network. this means i’m part of an amazing online book club, and i get to read books and then write about them, which is an ideal situation because i love talking books with anyone who will listen to me. there are so many conclusions to be drawn, perspectives to consider and things to discuss.
my first review from their winter selections is what was mine, by helen klein ross. i chose this book for one reason. i really like stories told from the perspective of a person who commits a crime. i know this sounds strange, so let me explain. none of us in generally functioning society wakes up in the morning with the intent to commit a crime. most indiscretions or illegal acts are a product of small, seemingly harmless bad decisions that add up to something larger. we all believe we’re incapable of doing something terrible, when statistics tell us that we could very easily surprise ourselves in the heat of the moment. i like stories that capture this very human part of us, as it often softens my attitude toward individuals who do things that seem unspeakable and diminishes my own superiority when i realize i posses the same vulnerability.
in what was mine, helen klein ross demonstrates this vulnerability so well. lucy wakefield is a successful new york city ad executive, who discovers that, unlike other areas of her life, no matter how hard she works, she cannot have a child. infertility and failed adoption attempts plague her marriage, leaving her alone and completely broken. during an ordinary visit to ikea, she discovers a baby girl alone in a shopping cart, and lucy makes several quick decisions that change the course of her entire life. without even realizing what she’s doing, she kidnaps baby natalie, names her mia, and raises her as her own daughter – for twenty-one years.
this book was a quick and easy, yet gripping read, told from the perspectives of lucy, natalie’s birth mother, mia, and a number of others who are close to them. the story explores mia’s upbringing and how lucy copes with hiding a horrific crime that has given her everything she’s always wanted. when mia discovers her original identity and reconnects with her birth mother, life changes again for each character, but in the wake of a 20-year crime, redemption is far more elusive than any character could have hoped.
throughout the story, a few things stood out to me. first, i really enjoyed how ross crafted lucy’s rationalizations for her crime. the fact is, we all do things we’re not proud of, and generally we craft ways to rationalize our actions. these rationalizations only grow with the size of the crime, and i related to lucy’s internal dialogue on why kidnapping mia wasn’t the terrible crime she knew deep down that it was. not because i have interest in kidnapping a child, but because our rationalizations don’t often really fit the crime themselves – they fit our human condition and our desperate attempt to convince ourselves that our bad decisions are justified. i love the quote “i knew that what i was doing was wrong according to law. but what i was doing felt right, according to the laws of nature.”
i also liked how ross explored the fact that we seem to be incapable of letting go of loving family members who have hurt us. it’s a complicated idea, as it seems that humans are incapable of shaking the connection we have with our birth parents AND those who have raised and loved us outside of that dynamic, no matter what the circumstances. i see this manifested in the lives of those i know, and i believe that loving our parents, whether biological or adopted, is an inherent part of our nature that cannot be renounced.
and finally, through various characters throughout the story, ross analyzes various ideas of what it means to be a “good” mother. is a working mother who works to provide her child with only the best opportunities any less loving than a mother who doesn’t work and is fully present in her children’s lives? what about a mother who leaves her child completely in order to provide him with the best? what is “the best” exactly? is it just love? or is it opportunity, healthy lifestyle, education, or financial resources? each of us has our own definition about what is best for our children. and the fact of the matter is, there’s no one “right” formula. each of the mothers in this story loves her children well, just differently, and kidnapping aside, i think this is truly the most poignant theme of the book.
long story short, should you read this? DEFINITELY. it’s a quick read that you won’t regret, and i guarantee you you’ll be thinking about it long after the last page. many thanks to gallery books for providing me a copy of this book, and if you decide to read it, let me know your thoughts!
title: what was mine
author: helen klein ross
Helen Klein Ross is a poet and novelist whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and in The Iowa Review, where it won the 2014 Iowa Review Award in poetry. She graduated from Cornell University and recieved an MFA from The New School. Helen lives with her husband in New York City and Salisbury, Connecticut.
published: january 2016
publisher: gallery books an imprint of simon and schuster
what others are saying: she reads books of winter
disclosure: i received this book free from the publisher, gallery books, an imprint of simon & schuster, as a member of the she reads network. i was not required to write a positive review. the opinions i have expressed are my own.