Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Book Review: A Special Relationship by Douglas Kennedy

When Sally Goodchild talks herself onto a Red Cross helicopter, she is in for a while ride, but it doesn't end while being shot at in Somali air space or after she is turned back in a Red Cross van going the other way, nor does it end when she meets Tom Hughes; that is just the beginning of a very wild ride.

A Special Relationship is a wild ride on the order of Toad's Wild Ride, the book and the amusement park versions, but what really struck me is how sketchy the men in the novel appear. It took me a while to figure out that Sally doesn't see men very clearly and this seems to be how Kennedy wrote Tom Hughes and the rest of the men she encounters. Sally is more comfortable and sees women more clearly, although through a muddy glass at times, which may be indicative of the way she sees the world -- at a distance. She is insulated from the world in many ways, with her pregnancy, with the illness that keeps her bed bound in hospital during the final three months of her pregnancy, from her child when he is born due to trauma and depression and from the rest of the world.

Then it struck me that A Special Relationship is a novelization of a newspaper report and Sally is a newspaper reporter after all. Newspapers don't get into the deep emotional issues and seldom get too personal with anyone, even in profiles, preferring to see things from a distance with what is intended to be a neutral eye. There is a very newspaper reporter feel to Kennedy's novel that is at once comforting and a little disconcerting, especially when there is plenty of emotional earth to mine, and yet the earth remains undisturbed, a reporter's eye view of a very emotional and difficult story that still, for all its distance, engaged and surprised me.

Despite the postpartum depression, which seems to be a subject Kennedy has returned to, the real horror of the story is how distant Sally feels and how she chooses to suffer in silence when her husband is being a jerk, about the deaths of her parents, about so many things. That silent suffering seems to be more a woman thing than a man thing, at least in Kennedy's view since he writes mostly about women and from the female perspective, something he does very well.

I look forward to reading more of Kennedy's work and to finding out how he manages the male perspective in other books and from the other females' points of view.

No comments: