If you read my review for “A Sudden Light” by Garth Stein you will remember that I had trouble with the characters. While I enjoyed the story, most of the characters drove me up the wall. “Burden of Breath” by Ann Minnett is another one of those stories. For this book, it is important to throw the themes up right here in the beginning of the review, because these are harsh themes to deal with. This is a story about recovering from sexual and metal child abuse told both from the point of view of the abuser who is trying to redeem herself, and the abused who is forced to live with the scars, literally and figuratively. On a scale from 0 to “Push” by Sapphire (The movie was titled “Precious”), it is not nearly as graphic and horrifying, but that is like comparing the bite of a rabid wolf to the bite of an angry shark. This story is hangs on you like a weighted blanket and it is hard to get rid of.
Without summarizing too much, Hannah Dyer receives the news that her manipulative, controlling, sexually and mentally abusive mother has died. Not of suicide as Hannah would have expected, but a natural heart attack. Her mother, true to her nature, has arranged everything. Her entire funeral planned, and Hannah, who has carved out a very lonely life for herself feels the chains latching themselves around her once more, especially when she discovers that her mother has adopted another child, and she is expected to care for it.
This is where the story gets truly interested, and where it kept me turning the pages despite my feelings of anger and frustration both at the abuse that is described, and the characters being so disagreeable to me. When Hannah arrives at her mother’s home, she is confronted with people who have a completely different view of her mother. People who love her mother, and see her as an angry, bitter, woman filled with unnecessary hatred, who barely has her own life together. The dichotomy between what she knows of the woman they revere, and her mother’s public appearance creates an engrossing story. The problem I have is that Hannah is angry, bitter, and filled with hate. She is so wrapped up in herself that she pushes everyone who is trying to help her away and places her young charge in danger because she is so blind to anything but her hatred. I understand it, but it was incredibly difficult to read.
And the other part of this story, her mother’s point of view… even worse. I could not sympathize with the flashback scenes of her mother’s feelings, her mother’s actions, and her mother’s hurt at Hannah’s rejection and her desire to make things better. Even more frustrating was that even after learning about what her mother did to her, other characters still defended or accepted the woman they had known, marginalizing Hannah’s feelings.
I don’t think these were bad choices on behalf of the author, either. It is, sadly, a realistic view, and it is very well written. This an amazing piece for a debut novel. What I, personally and emotionally, was hoping for was for Hannah to break the mold, to come out on top, but her scars were simply too deep. I wanted a hopeful story, and what I got was a dark glimpse into the human psyche and a realistic view of the cycle of abuse. A story that shows that sometimes you fight becoming the monster you fear and one day look into the mirror to see that you have become, at least in part, that monster.
I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading “Burden of Breath”. I just want those who are sensitive to be prepared. It is not an easy story to digest, and that is why it lost stars. I felt the need to finish, but emotionally could not enjoy it.
P.S. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for “The Human Forged” by Anthony Melchiorri