Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book Review: Kristina Riggle's Things We Didn't Say

Kristina Riggle will be talking about her latest novel 
and autographing books on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. 
at Schuler Books & Music, 2820 Towne Center Blvd., 
Eastwood Towne Center Lansing.

“Things We Didn’t Say” by Grand Rapids author Kristina Riggle (Morrow, $14.99) offers an intriguing, compelling look at a contemporary dysfunctional family.

Set mostly in a slightly altered Grand Rapids, with flashback scenes in Laingsburg, Riggle’s third novel is not exactly what most people are likely to take to the beach for pleasant summertime reading.

Told through a variety of multiple viewpoints, Riggle explores many different emotional situations, but at least nobody dies.

Edna Leigh Casey (or just Casey), one of the book’s main characters, is frustrated from the beginning, as she’s trying to get out of a somewhat problematic relationship. She’s 26, living with newspaper reporter Michael Turner, and serving as a stepmother to his three children, Angel, Dylan and Jewel.

As a blended family there are numerous confrontations, including unpleasant scenes with Mallory, David’s ex-wife, who’s psychologically unstable and an alcoholic.

Tensions mount when 14-year-old Dylan disappears after being dropped off at school. Riggle skillfully develops the ensuing frantic search, smoothly shifting viewpoints as she explores attitudes and insights while increasing tension.

There are many other challenges; Casey has her own secrets and is a recovering alcoholic. David has issues with his over-bearing, successful father. Mallory is always having emotional issues; the kids find adjustment is difficult and rebel in their own way.

Most of the book seems devoted to arguing, bickering, yelling and sniping, leaving the reader likely to feel that maybe their life isn’t really that bad in comparison.

The novel’s title indicates one of the major difficulties of this extended family – while they do communicate, they don’t listen very well or say what’s really on their mind.

There’s a brief additional section designed for reading or discussion groups, with 15 interesting and thought-provoking questions.

There are no easy answers, but the flawed characters and their assorted problems are likely to linger long after the reader is finished.

Riggle is a freelance journalist, short story writer and co-editor for fiction at the e-zine Literary Mama. Her previous two books, “Real Life and Liars” and “The Life You’ve Imagined” are now available in paperback.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed books regularly since 1987.

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on July 10, 2011.

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