Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Book Review: Keepsake

By Melissa Amster

A few months ago, we were having work done on our house and we had to keep most of the contents of our kitchen and basement in the rooms where no one was currently sleeping. My mom was over for a visit one time and called them our "hoarder rooms." Thankfully, those rooms have been cleaned out (even though the one upstairs ends up being our laundry "staging area" more often than not). It was nearly impossible to walk into those rooms for a while, so I can only imagine how one's entire house must look and feel if they actually are a compulsive hoarder. Reading about Trish's house in "Keepsake," by Kristina Riggle, made me as anxious as her sister, Mary, must have felt the first time she visited.

Trish has been collecting objects and letting them clutter her house, until the day an accident turns into a threat, by a social worker, to take her son away. Her estranged sister, Mary, is invited to help get the house in shape to prove Trish can provide a clean and safe environment. As Mary and Trish get to cleaning, they learn more about themselves and each other, as well as about their mother, who passed away years ago as a result of a hoarding accident. As Trish's clutter continues to get out of control, it starts to affect everyone in her path in ways she never thought possible. Will Trish be able to curb her hoarding and will Mary be the one to help her through the hardest task of all?

Aside from the hoarding rooms due to our remodeling, I do tend to have a problem staying organized and stuff in my house seems to build up over time. I have had issues with misplacing important items from time to time. (I was so thankful to find my social security card in a bag I stopped using months prior to realizing it was missing! And I did a dance of joy when I finally dug up my older son's hearing aid!) When I heard about "Keepsake," the topic really called out to me and I'm so glad I read it. This past weekend, I even made my sons clean out a box of toys and papers in their room. (The box looks a lot better now.) Just imagining Trish's house made me want to go through every area of clutter in my house! (Next is the basement!) The story is told in such a compelling way that I couldn't put it down. I just had to find out what would happen next, as well as what terrible secret Trish was, for lack of a better term, hoarding. The dialogue woven throughout the story was so realistic and genuine that I felt like I was standing in the room next to the characters, eavesdropping on their conversations. I loved all the relationships that I got to witness as they unfolded. Trish's sons were such a contrast from one another, one being goth and the other being a sensitive little boy. They connected with each other so well and I enjoyed seeing the older brother look after the younger brother's needs, even with their huge age difference. I also liked the relationship between Trish and Mary. Even though they hadn't spoken in years and there was so much tension between them, there was so much love beneath the surface. I was able to relate to both women in different ways. I was probably more like Trish, but I also related to Mary in her frustrations over how Trish acted towards her.

Initially, I was thrown off by both Trish and Mary speaking in first person. If Ms. Riggle didn't make it clear that she was alternating between chapters, I would have been thoroughly confused. It would have been nice to have their names at the beginning of the chapters, the way other authors have done for multiple first person perspectives. Another way to make it work would have been to keep both characters in third person or have one in first person and one in third person. While the ending came at a good point, I wish more had been resolved for Trish. However, I think she made lots of progress and I was personally cheering her on, even when she did have her setbacks. Mary initially seemed a bit boring in comparison to Trish's drama, but her voice did speak to me and she did end up having some of her own demons with which to contend. I was cheering her on when she made progress in her life, as well. Some parts were a bit predictable, but it didn't bother me as I tend to have a habit of predicting what will happen in stories, based on how much I read. However, the subject matter that causes the hoarding may affect some sensitive readers. I don't want to spoil anything and it's hard to explain why without doing so. Just be forewarned that you may want to have a box of tissues handy. I didn't cry personally, but the situations kept me up at night feeling sorry for those affected in the story.

When I first started reading "Keepsake," I wrote to Ms. Riggle to tell her I liked how honest it was. The characters didn't hold back from revealing their flaws and Trish even said all the time how she wasn't perfect. Mary's first reaction to Trish's clutter was so extreme and so embarrassing at the same time, but so revealing of the extent of the clutter. Trish's hoarding is definitely anxiety provoking, but it's the same feeling one might get from watching "Hoarders." I had a really hard time watching those shows, seeing women wade through piles of garbage and moldy food. It's like watching a train wreck though. And Trish's life is definitely a train wreck, but it's hard not to sympathize with her, even when she makes us frustrated as readers. Ms. Riggle knows how to get to the core of the situation and talk about how someone's things become more important to them than the people those things remind them of. She tells this story in a such a touching and heart wrenching way that I have a feeling it will stick with me for a long time. This is the first novel I've read by Ms. Riggle and it won't be the last if her others are just as beautifully written and compelling.

Kristina Riggle will be at Chick Lit Central later this week to talk about music with us and we'll be giving away some copies of "Keepsake" at that time, so stay tuned!

More by Kristina Riggle:

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