I was asked by author, Ericka Clay, to review her novella, Dear Hearts, and I must say that I am really excited to have the opportunity to review a compelling piece of writing, probably because I’ve never been asked by an author to review their work before! It’s been a whole new experience and one I want to experience again.
Dear Hearts by Ericka Clay: From the outside, Mitch and Elena Reynolds are a typical White Smoke family: married, raising a daughter, running a local business, attending church on Sundays. But their happy family image starts to crack when Mitch has an affair with local White Smoke resident, Aaron Hooper.
Mitch and Elena’s tumultuous relationship is further tested with failed attempts to get pregnant again, forced AA meetings to curb their alcoholism and bitter therapy appointments to try and “fix” their daughter, Wren. It’s not until both Mitch and Elena trust in their love for their daughter that they begin to rekindle the connection they first formed as kids. But is it too late?
From the author of Unkept, Dear Hearts is an exquisitely told tale of love, loss and human connection in the wake of darkness.
Alcoholic childhood sweethearts, bone marrow deep love, a cheating man struggling with his sexuality and a child still attempting to get a handle on her bladder and her parents, put that all together and you get the surface level premise of Clay’s novella. Underneath that however is layer upon layer of conflict, emotion, compulsion and heavy neuroticism. All these layers come together to create a complex and dynamic story of a married couple handling life as best they know how, and most of the time their best, especially when it comes to their daughter, just doesn’t cut it.
I have very mixed emotions about this novella. Part of me loved the raw, dirty grittiness of the characters and their approach to situations, such as Elena convincing Mitch to attend AA through sex or Elena’s compulsion of scrubbing her hands raw. It’s very real and confronting.
However another part of me just can’t seem to truly believe Mitch as a character. A gay man, who refuses to accept his sexuality and hide within a loving marriage, who try for another baby, because that will make everything better. That I can believe and at first I thought this was all there was to Mitch, however Mitch appears to have come to terms with himself, as we can see through his relationship with a man that seems to flip a switch inside of him and pull out who he really is, but he chooses to crush that part of himself. This is qualified by the fact that Elena and Mitch do have a deep physical connection, but can a gay man really love a women in that way? I wasn’t convinced.
Dear Hearts is punctuated with a slew of extremely lovely imagery and just beautiful sentences that pop out of the short chapters, this gem for example; “counting her mistakes like dirty coins”. Stunning.
While I do think there is a lot of unnecessary detail that appears to be more of a space filler than anything else it doesn’t slow the pace of the book or create drags in the writing. The evolution of the novella is extremely well done in this sense. There is always a development, something pushing the story forward, a new neurosis to be discovered among the dysfunctional couple.
Dear Hearts is not for those wanting a light read; it’s for those of us who want to delve into a not so perfect psyche.
Clay has done an incredible job of documenting a facet of marriage and life that is not often explored in the mainstream. It isn’t pretty or pleasant or nice but it’s real and I commend Clay for attempting to put forth an image and life that isn’t always very easy to do.
I do recommend this novella.
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