Cover Image: The Lines

The Lines

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An unremarkable, everyday event – the break-up of a family. But what a remarkable book Varallo has written about it. This totally compelling novel captured my heart from the very first page, such is the compassion, empathy and insight it displays towards a family in crisis. It’s narrated from the shifting perspective of the four main characters – the father, the mother, the girl, the boy – who are never named but who come alive on the page so that I really felt I knew them. Each of the voices is distinct and authentic, particularly the voices of  the children – and it’s never easy to get a child’s voice to sound convincing. Varallo manages that expertly. Tautly written, with never a wasted word, the story unfolds over one hot summer in 1976, capturing the minutiae of daily life, the adjustments that have to be made when a separation happens, the damage that is caused, the heartbreak and the sadness. Such a rewarding and memorable read. Highly recommended.
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In the summer or 1979, America was in the middle of a gas crisis and the family of four - Mother, Father, Boy and Girl - were in the beginning of their own crisis. 

The Lines is the story of divorce. Of how people change and how people grow. It's an American story. It's a modern story. It's the story of one family  - but could be the story of a million families. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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The Lines is such an interesting read for me that I am so torn on this rating, so I am reserving the right to change my rating.  The story takes place in 1979 and the title comes from the lines that people needed to wait on to purchase gas due a shortage that was occurring on this time.  The book centers around a family of four, the mother, the father, the boy and the girl (they do not have names in this story). The parents are separating and this novel tells that story of that particular moment in their lives. 

The writing is absolutely fabulous and even the story as simple as this one is (and really this is very simple) was beautiful.  However, where this book lost me and a felt a major disconnect was that this family had no names.  Everything is, the boy, the girl, the mother and so on.  The supporting characters in this book are named and referenced a lot.  In my opinion only, this took some of the attachment in a book that I crave.  It was a weird experience reading this, with such a dissociative feeling.  

I think people will love this story, and the writing, however if you want the connection, that I so wanted, this might leave you wanting just a little bit more. 

Thank you NetGalley and University of Iowa Press for an Advanced Reader's Copy of this book in exchange for an honest opinion.
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'When the children return home from another weekend at their father’s, their mother says she has something to tell them. Great, the girl thinks. Whenever an adult tells you they have something to tell you- run. Run fast! Run fast and keep running.'

It is the summer of 1979 and one family of four is splitting apart, a time when separation and divorce wasn’t quite as common as it is today. The girl seems to understand all the things that hum beneath the surface even though she is only 10 years old, things her brother, at the age 7, remains clueless about. Is this going to fix all the sorrow, this divide? How will becoming two families make life easier? It just doubles the problems doesn’t it, when you split things in half?  The boy certainly has questions about life as it’s unraveling.

Father is no longer living at home, father no longer being the man of the house isn’t there as things fall into disrepair. Is he really still a father then? Does the boy then step into daddy’s too big absent shoes and become man of the house? It’s all mass confusion. The kids are taking on the slack left behind now that mom returned to school. Then the dating, the parents are dating people! Bad enough they have to get used to two homes, two rooms, two separate lives  now doors are opening to strangers? Dad has a girlfriend, they won’t mention this to mom, and this girlfriend Sarah becomes a stand in mom when they are at their dad’s. In fact, she is often more engaged than their father, watching them at the pool.

The father had forgotten what being a bachelor means, the ‘essential’ things he can’t recall, the cooking, the food shopping and darn if he doesn’t miss his garage. Father not that good when it comes to attentiveness towards his son and daughter, hasn’t that always fallen to the mother before? Why can’t father make relationships work, even with someone new? Why must the girl be so aware of the ways her daddy falls short? There is something obscene in seeing your parents as human, with their fault lines.

“Why, the girl wonders , is life so often a matter of answering yes to things you’d rather say no to?”  Like meeting Mom’s new man. Seeing your father date is bad enough, and seeing his relationship fail is something she doesn’t wish to witness. Both parents are letting some parenting go, it’s different depending which home they are at. The summer is a bust, school feels more tempting than all this time on their hands, all this terrible change. There is a new man on the scene, Cliff. The mother’s friends are pushing her, find someone. Cliff is someone.

Cliff can fix things, make life easy, help bear the brunt. Sister is getting salty with her mother, challenging, fed up. With Cliff comes Marcus, who thinks he knows everything and is probably as clueless as the brother and sister. Everything is a crap show, the adults have all lost their senses. There is no compass, life without an anchor even Gumma tells her grandchildren their childhood is over now, coming from a broken home. It’s so sad when the adults try to make a new normal, failing time and again. The parents are terrible, according to Gumma. Everyone and their opinions, their insights! Bitter adults!

Is their marriage really over? Will their parents realign themselves and everything return to normal? One thing is certain, it’s going to be a terrible summer. All that happens is beneath the skin and mind, “There’s such a relief, the girl thinks, in knowing no one knows your thoughts.” For both the mother and the father, life full of financial demands, at least they no longer have to attend to each others bottomless need, but what to do with all this freedom? Life is still life, as a mother, as a father there will always be things and children pulling you this way and that. As the novel says, “Human misery, there’s never a shortage of it”, whether you are married or not. The children shoulder the separation and their parents failings, understanding raining upon them as heavy as the suffocating heat of the summer.

Yes, read it.

Publication Date: August 15, 2019

University of Iowa Press
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