Still Life with Tornado by A. S. King Review

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5Q 4P J S

King, A. S. Still Life with Tornado. Dutton/Penguin Random House, 2016. 304p. $17.99. 978-1-101-99488-7.

Sarah is sixteen but meets herself at ages ten, twenty-three, and forty as she begins to completely unravel in this powerful novel. She loses her ability to do art, engages in multiple truancies from school, stalks a homeless man, takes incredible risks with her own safety, and, in desperation, finally contacts her brother Bruce, who left the family six years ago and disappeared. Sarah internalizes her suffering and depression, which have deep roots within a dysfunctional family rife with secrets and silence. In this novel, she tells her own story, but Helen—her mother who is an emergency room nurse—adds vital information in several chapters.  As Sarah wanders the urban ruins of Philadelphia, she re-visits the horror that is her family dynamic, which appears to have reached its peak during a disastrous vacation to Mexico.  Bruce disappeared after that trip and never returned until Sarah asks him to come home to help save her from herself.

King’s use of magical realism enables a visceral engagement with Sarah’s emotional turmoil, and it will take a sophisticated reader to decipher the nuances of her disintegration.  Add in bullying classmates who are egged on by a cruel, inhumane art teacher, and the tension and unease mount. Readers feel the deepening despair while they enter the disturbing world of dysfunctional families and domestic abuse, along with the destruction they bring.—Judith A. Hayn.

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