Friday, December 30, 2016

Free Verse, by Sarah Dooley

A hardscrabble life and a string of bad luck bring near daily challenges to Sasha.  But as she reaches the limits of endurance, she discovers poetry and the ability to articulate the words in verse that she can't say aloud.

Living in a dismal coal mining town in West Virginia, Sasha has been abandoned by her mother and lost both her father and older brother to fatal accidents.  The trauma has left her unable to speak and prone to fierce bouts of blind anger.  But in the structured world of poetry (not all of her writing in free verse), she is able to speak her heart and release her anguish.  The result is a depressing, but ultimately uplifting, tale of using art to overcome adversity.

My one complaint about the novel is that it is repetitive. The story certainly could have used some pruning.  But I enjoyed Sasha's strong character and the spare and reserved qualities of all of the portrayals in the story.  Dooley crafts the text carefully, leaving many things unsaid (and in fact, never explaining key plot events).  This is quite effective and, far from frustrating the reading, it opens much of the story up for interpretation.  And while the story's setting is dismal, Dooley does not pity these people, and reveals great dignity in their difficult lives.  Finally, the use of verse amidst the prose is surprisingly effective in a way that verse novels on their own rarely are.

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