Unvariably lovely there: taking a look inside Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara

Someone once asked me what reading was to me. I said, a coping mechanism. She said, I don’t think so. She said, I think that it’s an escape method. I laughed and replied, aren’t those the same thing? She shook her head. One year later, I think I understand what she meant. 

That is to say, I understand that I’m reading a lot of books and posting a lot of reviews. It’s because I’m reading a lot of books. 

Last night, I read Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara.

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This is how I started Winter Storm Nemo/Snowpocalypse. With a book with a lovely title/cover and a cup of chai. It was a pretty awesome start to a very mild storm for those of us south of NYC.

I can’t remember where I first heard about this book. Actually, a fellow B&N patron asked me how I had heard about the book (the conversation went like this: “Is it a NYT Bestseller?” “No.” “Then how did you hear about it?” “Um, probably the internet.” “Oh.”). I imagine I saw a review of it somewhere, or maybe a picture of its cover? We’ll get to my love for this cover in a moment. 

Anyways, for some reason, after I finished Where Things Come Back yesterday, it had just started snowing and I thought, “I want to read that lovely dark and deep book.” So I went to the shelf (I love doing my “work” from Barnes&Noble) and there it was, beautiful and pristine. The perfect read.

Before we go BEHIND THE JUMP, let’s just establish a few things.

  1. This isn’t YA to me. This is exactly what New Adult should be. This is a dark, gritty, raw, aching, lovely contemporary that bridges that gap between YA and Adult Fiction. 
  2. The cover is ASTOUNDINGLY beautiful. The typography on the front is beautiful and the typography inside is gorgeous. Whoever did the font and cover work on this book? You have created one of the most lovely covers I’ve seen on the market in a LONG time.
  3. I love me some angst. I love me some sulky stompy angst. But I like my angst to be justified. Wren’s angst is justified. Her pain is real. We can feel it. I never felt like slapping her and telling her to get off her ass and just deal. I wanted to hug her and bring her tea. 
  4. I really, really appreciate a book in which the parents are trying their best, no matter what. I can’t imagine what Wren’s parents are going through during this story.
  5. I want to slap a trigger warning on this book. Wren’s grief is very real and leads her down some very real, true, but dark paths. Please take care of yourself first and foremost.
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Seriously, can we admire the cover? I had to put it through some Instagram filters to get the font (silver) to stand out. Wren would disapprove but you know. Breathe, Wren.

Alright. Everything else (spoiler alerts! I’ll try to keep them light) is going to come after the jump! Follow me, my favorite little lambs!

”I could not follow your wishes, but I know 
If they assuaged you 
It would not be crying in this dark, your sorrow, 
It would not be crying, so 
That my own heart drifts and cries, having no death 
Because of the darkness, 
Having only your grief under my mouth 
Because of the darkness.”

Philip Larkin (1922-1986), British poet. “Deep Analysis.”

LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP is the story of Wren who takes up residence in her father’s remote artist’s cabin to sink deeper into her grief. She went there to seek solitude after she and her then-boyfriend (or recently broken up but driving home from the breakup) Patrick were in a horrific car accident. Patrick died. Wren was in the hospital. We know that she stopped talking. That she sank into a deeper depression than most of us will ever experience in our lives, and thank god for that. When she surfaced, it was to ask her mother to let her go north to her father’s house where she wanted to sit in mostly silence, avoiding people, and run in the woods. 

When we meet her, Wren gets hit by a car. I know. You’re thinking, “Okay, I SEE YOUR METAPHOR. The mirroring!”. Except, the first chapter is the closest that this story gets to being overwritten. I began it and held my breath because it comes so close. It toes the edge, right there, with the being hit by the car, and meeting Beautiful Handsome Boy with whom she has an instant attraction. But this story is never overwritten, and everything is reined back after the first chapter into a tightly controlled, beautiful story of a girl who thinks she is alone in her grief and thinks she must weather this storm alone.

Predictably, because this IS a YA/NA novel, there is a love interest. And yes, he’s “troubled’ in some way. Cal Owens (oh that name. It makes me swoon.) has MS. I should probably preface this with a declaration that MS is one of those diseases that my brain has gripped as the Scariest. I am petrified of MS. So whenever I read a story that involves a character with MS, I get scared. Really genuinely scared. Cal’s MS does not dominate the story, other than to pull Wren out of her self-imposed exile (guilt: the world’s greatest motivator!) and to start a few conversations with Other Characters who think that Wren shouldn’t start a relationship with someone who will die young and likely a terribly not pretty death. I think if I was Wren, and had just lost my boyfriend (and something Else but that’s part of the story), and fell for a beautiful boy with MS, I would run away. I am more selfish than I like to admit. So from the get go, I admired the fact that Wren researched MS and still called Cal the next day. I was cheering. Possibly aloud. I’ll never tell.

But Wren is broken, and Cal is angry (of course he is. who wouldn’t be? How would it be to be incredibly gifted, and smart, and to be stricken with a disease that takes away your independence?). They aren’t perfect. They’re FAR from perfect. They are very real. 

Yes, this is about the time I started crying while reading. 

Wren’s mother asks her to go to a psychiatrist to deal with Wren’s ongoing grief and when she goes, the psych asks her the fairly standard question, “Do you think about suicide?” Wren says she doesn’t often. The word she was looking for was passive suicidal ideation. She often doesn’t want to live, and she often doesn’t think it would be terrible if she didn’t, but she doesn’t have a plan. But he asks her if she has a plan, because he is required to and obligated to, and she says she does not. The wheels start turning in her head, though. 

I have been there more times than I will tell this blog. This felt very real. Wren’s panic, her mental breakdown, her dissociation (throughout the story, actually) was incredibly real. She lost track of her corporeal body. She nearly dies in the process.

I do want to slap a trigger warning on this book for this reason. Any time that you have a character’s passively attempted suicide, you have to slap a trigger warning on it. So that’s where this trigger warning comes in. 

The book ends on a hopeful note, but without a tidy ending, without Wren walking in the sunshine and admiring the birds and thinking about all of the ways that she is lucky and in love and everything is perfect and Cal’s drugs are working and all of those things. Because life doesn’t have tidy endings. As the Imagine Dragons song It’s Time says, “the path to heaven runs through miles of clouded hell.” Wren’s not out of the woods yet. She has miles to go, to allude to the same poem from which the title of the book is taken. 

I loved the realism. I loved the pain. I loved the writing. There was very little I didn’t like about this book (that it ended, perhaps?). This was Amy McNamara’s debut novel and what a stunning debut it was. I loved her use of poetry (including Philip Larkin who opens this review since I had honestly not read much of him before this book and spent a large part of last night catching up on this fantastic artist) and I loved Wren’s voice. I thought the relationship with Cal was well written, real, and wonderful. I would like Cal to be cloned and brought here, please and thank you. I loved Wren’s father who loves his daughter and wants the best for her. I loved Wren’s father’s fellow, Mary, who becomes a surrogate sister. I loved Wren’s father’s girlfriend Zara, who, as Wren realizes, turned out to be her “fairy step-artist.” Everything was subtle, gentle, and consistent in this story. 

Like Where Things Come Back, this is a story about coming back. She didn’t need to leave town to leave her life behind, and when she came back, she had to readjust how she saw everyone around her, and how she saw herself. 

Highly recommend. If you liked 13 Reasons Why, Winter Girls, or Where She Went, then you’ll like Lovely, Dark and Deep!

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Obligatory post of a cat with the book. This is foster kitten Hugo who has a meet with potential adopters this afternoon! He is posing with LDD because I dangled a toy next to my head until he was appropriately posed. Sometimes I wonder if I have this blog just to take photos like this.

(I never realized how upsetting it is not to have an Oxford Comma in that title/line of poetry before I started talking about this book.)

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