FACE IN A BOOK | Book Reviews: "Archetype" by M.D. Waters & "Drunk Mom" by Jowita Bydlowska

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Face in a Book is my weekly mini-review feature, where I review the books I've read this week!

Archetype (Archetype #1) by M.D. Waters (Dutton; Paperback on Sale June 24, 2014)

In a future where women are a rare commodity, Emma fights for freedom but is held captive by the love of two men—one her husband, the other her worst enemy. If only she could remember which is which . . .

In the stunning first volume of a two-book series, Emma wakes with her memory wiped clean. Her husband, Declan—a powerful and seductive man—narrates the story of her past, but Emma’s dreams contradict him. They show her war, a camp where girls are trained to be wives, and love for another man. Something inside warns her not to speak of these things, but the line between her dreams and reality is about to shatter forever. 

Too often, thrillers simply don’t live up to their name. That’s not the case with M.D. Waters’ Archetype, which I can only describe as BBC’s Orphan Black meets The Handmaid’s Tale and Gone Girl. We meet Emma, the main character, struggling with a case of amnesia after a devastating accident. She is fighting to be herself – but is that Emma Burke, wife of the wealthy Declan Burke, or is she someone else entirely? And what does the voice in her head – one Emma calls “Her” – have to do with it? 

The slow buildup will keep you turning pages, as a thoroughly contemporary world is revealed to be a futuristic one, where a low fertility rate means that fecund women are valued as important commodities to be bought and sold. Women are “prepared” for marriage in Women’s Training Centers, and then bought by the highest bidder for their reproductive attributes.

Emma doesn’t know any of this at first – all she knows is that Declan is a loving, caring husband, and that she cares for him very much. If only she could remember their past…

When she meets a man in public who has featured heavily in her dreams – and nightmares – Emma’s world is turned upside down. There is a very real betrayal, and a love triangle with conflict tied up in the knots. Her very understanding of who – or rather, what she is – is shaken. I was breathless until the very end.

And that ending! I couldn’t put this book down. You don’t have to be a science fiction buff, or the kind of fan who watched Battlestar Galactica religiously or in a Netflix marathon, to get into this book. Put simply, this is one of the best thrillers I have read all year. The best part? It’s a duology, so the second book will be published in late July. That way, you won’t have to wait very long to get your fix. (Lucky me, the folks over at Dutton sent me both at once, so I read them back-to-back in a few days.)

Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska (Penguin; On Sale May 27, 2014)

Three years after giving up drink, Jowita Bydlowska found herself throwing back a glass of champagne like it was ginger ale. "It's a special occasion," she said to her boyfriend. And indeed it was. It was a party celebrating the birth of their first child. It also marked Jowita's immediate, full-blown return to alcoholism and all that entails for a new mother who is at first determined to keep her problem a secret. 

Her trips to liquor stores are in-and-out missions. Perhaps she's being paranoid, but she thinks people tend to notice the stroller. Walking home, she stays behind buildings, in alleyways, taking discreet sips from a bottle she's stored in the diaper bag. She know she's become a villain: a mother who drinks; a mother who endangers her child. She drinks to forget this. And then the trouble really starts.

Jowita Bydlowska's memoir of her relapse into addiction is an extraordinary achievement. The writing is raw and immediate. It places you in the moment--saddened, appalled, nerve-wracked, but never able to look away or stop turning the pages. With brutal honesty, Bydlowska takes us through the binges and blackouts, the self-deception and less successful attempts to deceive others, the humiliations and extraordinary risk-taking. She shines a light on the endless hunger of wanting just one more drink, and one more again, while dealing with motherhood, anxiety, depression--and rehab.

Her struggle to regain her sobriety is recorded in the same unsentimental, unsparing, sometimes grimly comic way. But the happy outcome is evidenced by the existence of this brilliant book: she has lived to tell the tale.

I tried to push myself out of my comfort zone by picking up a nonfiction memoir, something I don’t typically read.  Drunk Mom is a contemporary memoir about a woman struggling with alcoholism and motherhood. 

The writing style, while jolting and direct (and actually, that’s normally my cup of tea) felt like it was trying too hard to be literary. As a friend of mine would say, “it insists upon itself.”  It’s true that the book is marketed as “unsentimental” and “unsparing” – and I would agree that those descriptors are highly accurate – but often I felt as if Jowita was trying to convince me of something, but I couldn’t really figure out what. It clearly wasn’t a warm and fuzzy tale about motherhood; Jowita neglects her poor son more times than I can count. But hey, that’s part and parcel of addiction, isn’t it? Everything else pales in comparison to the unwavering need for a substance, whatever that happens to be. For Jowita it was alcohol, and boy does she imbibe. She frequently lies to everyone around her, including her boyfriend and family.

I didn’t feel for Jowita, which is odd considering how empathetic  I can be. She irked me, but I wasn’t expecting her to be likeable. What I was expecting Drunk Mom to be was moving – and it lacked that for me. I was equal counts disturbed and bored, and I kept turning pages hoping that something would pop up and make me feel something. I just didn’t feel the need to follow Jowita’s story through to the end – I didn’t even care enough about what happens to her baby, since he was mostly relegated to an afterthought. This shouldn’t be called Drunk Mom – just Drunk Jowita.