Cover Image: Unsettled Ground

Unsettled Ground

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UNSETTLED GROUND is a well-written novel that explores sudden grief as well as loss of innocence / coming of age (even at an older age than you'd expect). I would call it a literary, character-driven story, rather than plot-driven.

The characters are a bit unusual, but pretty fascinating. I definitely wanted to know what would happen to them.

The pace of the story is a bit slow. For that reason, I think it's going to find its most appreciative audience in fans of literary fiction.

Overall, UNSETTLED GROUND left me feeling, well, unsettled. I suppose that's on purpose. I recommend it; just know going in that this is not an uplifting or heartwarming read.
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"Unsettled Ground" is an astonishing book from the first page to the very end.
You will become so immersed with these two, 51 year old twins, who somehow have been unable to break away from living with their mother. When their mom suddenly dies, the story really begins and their lives unravel.
You will not be able to stop thinking about this book and these unforgettable characters long after you finish reading this novel.
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This is my first experience with Fuller's writing - although one of her earlier novels is already in my massive TBR! This one is a rather quietly depressing story of the 51-year-old fraternal Seeder twins in the immediate aftermath of their mother's sudden death. Both Jeanie and Julius still lived at home with their mother, the three of them scraping by through odd jobs, growing and selling garden vegetables all in their rent-free cottage.

But their shaky financial ground, as the title suggests, becomes quite unsettled with only the two of them to hold the pieces together. The majority of the book moves at a steady but rather sad pace. As their pasts - and truths about their mother are revealed, it is an interesting, character-driven story, but is so glum that it's not always very fun to pick the story back up. I will say that the ending is more uplifting than I expected it would be. And the characters both major and minor do come fully to life. It makes for a stark picture of poverty in the countryside. I just wish that even more had come out about Dot, their mother, who caused so many of their problems. It would also have been nice to see a bit more happiness on these pages. It's just a hard book to genuinely enjoy reading, though it is certainly well done. I never found myself disliking it, but never really eager to dive back in, either...
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I'm not sure if I'm nosy about other people's lives because I read novels or the other way around. Certainly fiction reminds us of the shocking variety of lifestyles that are functional in this crazy world. Unsettled Ground offers yet another family constellation faced with a jarring event that pulls out that exact Jenga block that was keeping the structure shakily balanced. Each character is distinct and fully alive, responding in problematic ways that keep the reader invested in the outcome. Highly recommended .
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It feels a little subversive to call a novel that tackles the topics of poverty, disconnection, illiteracy, and trauma beautiful.  However, this novel is beautiful in the grace in which it treats its characters.  Often disadvantaged characters in novels are written in terms of what they lack:  intelligence, common sense, literacy.  These characters are realized with full humanity, compassion, and tenacity.  A truly special novel that I won't be forgetting any time soon.
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I enjoyed Claire Fuller's work Bitter Orange, and when I saw this title was available for request, I was thrilled to be approved. The summary was intriguing and the cover was absolutely stunning. I quickly dove in. 

Jeanie and Julius' lives are thrown into turmoil when their mother suddenly dies from a stroke. They've spent their lives together under the same roof, but when funeral planning uncovers more than they bargained for, Jeanie and Julius find themselves in unfamiliar territory; and in order to move forward, they must learn the whole truth about their family. 

I sat on my review for a few days to work out my thoughts, but I really liked this book.

To start, this is a character-driven narrative examining the themes of love, complex family relationships, hope, and rebirth, and for the most part, I would go so far as to say it is primarily focused on the loss of innocence, a coming-of-age that happens unexpectedly because, well, it's not at a typical age. The twins are fifty-one and only known their lives as their mother had lain them out. In her death, however, they are forced to make impossible decisions, and in their struggle, we see genuine growth. 

Jeanie is a rare character whose arc isn't centered around finding her worth through literacy. So often we see characters solving every problem in their lives by learning to read or write, as if trying harder is the problem. Jeanie is self-aware and understands this puts her at a deficit, but she also doesn't think her conflicts will magically disappear if and when she learns to spell. Her resilience is heartbreaking and inspiring, and I especially loved the moments where she takes control of her own choices. 

The sibling relationship is complex and rich but also co-dependent to the point of toxicity at times. Their voices did not always read as fifty year olds, and I think that goes a long way toward the loss of innocence theme. Realizing the truth about our families is not relegated to a specific time frame, and this newfound knowledge can be life altering, jarring, and completely transformative. No spoilers, of course, but while there aren't many joyful moments to be found here, I found the love Jeanie and Julius had for each other to be a wonderful examination of sibling bond. There's hope here, even if it's complex and not altogether clear.

Overall, Unsettled Ground is a gritty, raw, emotional read that will stick to your bones and leave you questioning what you would do if your entire life wasn't what you were led to believe it was. For fans of tense literary fiction, strained relationships in the vein of Ethan Frome or Jeannette Walls, or anyone looking for a taut family drama. 

Big thanks to Tin House and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.
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This is one of those books that I more-or-less enjoyed reading but a month later I couldn't remember what it was about. The poverty didn't ring true for me and I found the protagonist bull-headed; she wouldn't accept help from anyone and I suppose that was the point of the novel.

I received an ARG from NG in trade for an honest review.
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After reading this, I just felt tired and sad on behalf of Jeanie and Julius. They have a hard life (though with a few people who seem to care as shown at the end) and I like that they connect through music. This just was mostly a downer to me though.

Kindly received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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When their mother dies suddenly, her 51 year-old twin children are left to fend for themselves for the first time. The siblings struggle with exploitation and homelessness and the fact that their cherished mother may not have been completely truthful.
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This is a really interesting novel with rich characters that keep you interested and intrigued the entire time you’re reading it. Beautiful figurative language threads it all together. I highly recommend.
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Unsettling indeed.

I've read most of Claire Fuller's fiction, and each novel seems more powerful than its predecessors. "Unsettled Ground" is extremely uncomfortable reading, but in the best possible way. Fuller takes us far, far away from our comfort zone with Jeanie and Julius. I certainly don't know anyone who lives a life like theirs in the modern world, nor have I read many stories that depict a similar lifestyle. 

Her writing and her story brought Sarah Moss to mind for me, which I've never thought before with Fuller's fiction. But here I found the same sense of disquiet and pending doom that I find in Moss's best fiction.

Fuller does a wonderful job breathing life into Jeanie and Julius (even if the same can't always be said for the minor characters). They leap off the page with their quirks and their lonely searching for a path forward. And Fuller treats them with such amazing empathy and honesty. It's great stuff: emotionally engaging and terrifically entertaining. I raced to the end of this novel, and the ending didn't disappoint. It felt like the perfect realization of everything she'd been building up to -- there's plenty of sadness of course, but also a little ray of hope for the future. 

Unsettling as it was, this was entirely original fiction from Claire Fuller. And how often do you get to say that about a novel? Kudos to her.
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This book! I could not put it down. It was my first novel read by Claire Fuller, but it won't be my last. Poignant passages, lyrical writing, and character development that had me extremely invested, Unsettled Ground is just that-- unsettled. It's disturbing, emotional, and also, tells a powerful story about resilience to trauma and the reassembling of identity within someone when they undergo it. Highly recommend.
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Perhaps I’m biased because Claire Fuller is one of my favourite authors, but I loved this. A high note is plucked in the first few pages and the string doesn’t stop vibrating, suffusing every page with a tense, almost shrill, undercurrent of nerves, till the very last. It is the story of adult twins and the mystery that unfolds after the death of their Mother. I found it somewhat hard to read, and I think that is because there is a strong theme of home and protection, the meaning of belonging and family, and the precariousness of those things. The pandemic makes me feel as if all those things have been placed on a hill of dry sand, and that we have to keep them safe at the top. This is how I saw Jeanie, scrabbling desperately to keep everything and everyone safe, but slipping and sliding, with little to stop her descending to the bottom. Saying that Jeanie has friends and even the ones she doesn’t like that much, more extended family than friends, are willing to show her love and support, if she will only accept it. Sometimes I wanted to shake Jeanie, her stubbornness was infuriating, but also utterly believable and even understandable. She is a proud person and wonderfully well rounded character. Fuller writes such layered and interesting characters. This book should win prizes and everyone should read it. Another absolute triumph from Claire Fuller.
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Far and away one of the best books I have read in a long time.  Being familiar with Claire Fuller I was curious about this title and wasn’t disappointed. It is a heart rending story of opportunities lost due to the overpowering love of family.  And it also speaks to the damage a family can do to its members. We are all so wired that we forget that many don’t live in today’s world..  in any event a powerful yet sad read.  Well written. A book that stays with you for a long long time.
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This is deliciously disturbing and extremely unputdownable reading! 

You are just drawn into the pages! The incredibly well constructed characters, embellished, detailed descriptions of the nature, those lyrical folk songs brush your ears, soothe your soul and the poverty, harsh life conditions, demanding challenges the siblings endure make you enjoy your reading more at each chapter! 

  Julius and Jeanie are twins in their 51s, living a secluded life with their mother Dot in their own terms with less comfort, little money in their life, growing their own vegetables, selling them to an upscale deli. 

Julius works at odd jobs for quick cash. Their mother saved their money in a tin box. Even though Jeanie cannot properly read and write, she’s happy to play her own music via her guitar as Julius plays the fiddle. They seem like outcasts, marginals but they’re pleased with their peaceful independence till one night their mother collapses on the floor, dying from a stroke. 

They cannot imagine how their mother was the only bond hold them together and when she is gone, her entire secrets slowly reveal and turn their peaceful, estranged lives into hell! 

  They always think they are living rent free but they don’t. The cold and bitter Mrs. Rawson doesn’t waste any time to knock on their door and tell them their mother owes her debt for rent and if they want to continue living in the cottage they have to pay rent including the amount their mother forgot to pay because of her illness. And unfortunately the Rawsons are not only people she owed money! 

  The people around them act like jackals hunt their preys to take advantage of their weaknesses which makes you furious. You easily pity on twins and interestingly you easily understand their peculiar, weird natures, the different lifestyle they chose for themselves. 

  They don’t have enough money for turning on electricity, eating proper food, burying their mother!!! Jeannie should find a job but how ? She has no qualities: she doesn’t have proper educational skills! She cannot turn on the computer for searching for jobs! She cannot even type anything! And of course her brother has issues to find his handyman jobs. 

  Now twins test their boundaries and their closeness because as Jeannie wants to live her isolated and peaceful life in their cottage with their lovely dog Maude and her brother, Julius wants to socialize, connecting with outside world, dragging into his own romance story! 
 
Such a fantastic novel about dysfunctional families, bonds, secrets, siblings, opportunist neighbors, poverty, grief, struggling life conditions. 

  One of the greatest reading experiences of mine which earned five big, bold, musical, lyrical, perfectly crafted stars! 

Special thanks to NetGalley and Tin House for making my wish come true by providing this digital reviewer copy with me in exchange my honest opinions.
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2021 Book Review 14: Unsettled Ground

Unsettled Ground is Claire Fuller’s fourth novel, the story of 51 year old twins Jeanie & Julius and the undoing of their entire world after the death of their mother Dot. Unsettled Ground will be released on March 25, 2021. I received an advance copy from @w.w.norton via @netgalley in exchange for my honest review of this work. 

Fifty one year old fraternal twins Jeanie and Julius have never left home - a rundown rental cottage where they live in poverty with their widowed mother. They are grossly unprepared to provide for themselves even this same meager level of existence after Dot dies and they are evicted. The twins, particularly Jeanie, are completely unmoored both by the loss of their surroundings and a gained knowledge of who their mother truly was. 

This was the first work of Claire Fuller that I’ve read, and I was struck by her captivating writing style - something about her way with words sucked me in even though the story didn’t hold my interest. I was drawn to the premise and jacket description immediately, but the story itself didn’t unfold in quite the dark & creepy way I was hoping for. I felt sad and frustrated for these characters but also frustrated by them. So much of the angst seemed easily solvable just through simple communication, it eventually felt irritating. Some side characters were interesting, and I found I’d rather read a book about them than the twins. One negative standout for me - maybe it was the foreign setting or the poverty, but I had a difficult time remembering when the book was set - present day, but it didn’t read that way. Overall, I didn’t love the story but I couldn’t stop reading, so I will seek out more work or Fuller’s going forward. 

3/5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️
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A really brilliant story about a family verging on the edge of despair, loss and finally redemption.
Fuller’s writing is always elegant and subtle but always humane. A lovely book.
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Unsettled Ground follows the complicated lives of the Seeder family though seemingly insurmountable challenges.  The book opens with the unexpected death of the matriarch, Dot.  Her children, twins Julius and Jeanie, have depended on their mother for guidance and direction throughout their 51 years, and in particular after the tragic death of their father when they were only 12 years old.  The inherent trust that they put into their mother falls to pieces when secrets become revealed that turn their world on its side.  

As truths become revealed, both Jeanie and Julius face new challenges and new realities, while creating a new and very different life for themselves from what they knew before.  Without their mother to guide their way, they find it on their own - stumbling at times - but through the challenges to hopeful new beginnings.  

This book was beautiful, if dark at times.  But the joy in the text was watching the characters grow and develop into their full selves.  Readers are left feeling not only satisfied but hopeful.
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3.5 stars
Gorgeous writing and great storytelling. 
Because of all the details, it was quite engrossing. I felt like I was there. 

It did drag at times because there was so much sadness. I would’ve liked to see move from the characters at the end. 
It’s definitely a quiet story, but I enjoyed my read.
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I was so happy to get to read Unsettled Ground by Clair Fuller. I have to say, I just didn’t find myself invested in the story. Her. writing is beautiful, but I just wanted more out of the plot and the characters. The idea of 51 year old twins still living together was so intriguing to me, but in the end it just left me feeling like I was missing something. I think many will really enjoy story.
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