Monday, December 14, 2020

The Library of Lost and Found, by Phaedra Patrick (author), Imogen Church (narrator)

Harlequin Audio, March 2019

Librarian Martha Storm has spent much of her life trying to prove to herself that she's useful, of value to others. One expression of this is the Wonder Woman notebook in which she records all the tasks, errands, and ordinary housekeeping she's taken on for others. Repair jobs. Mending. Laundry. She never says no.

And no one ever says thank you; they just complain she's not getting it done fast enough.

Her exploiters include coworkers at the library, library users, neighbors, and her own younger sister, Lillian, who sees no reason why she should hem her son Will's trousers, when elder sister Martha can do it instead.

Then one day Martha finds a book left at the library entrance--old, battered, worn, and with a dedication to her. Its contents? Fairy tales--but not just any fairy tales. These are stories her grandmother, Zelda, told her when she was a young child, and stories she made up and told Zelda.

Finding the book is going to change her life. It's going to unearth unsettling family secrets, and change Martha's perception of herself, her family, and her place in her family.

This is a story of family relationships, self-respect, mutual respect, and honesty. The secrets in this family include what happened to Zelda--the girls are told, when Martha is fifteen and Lillian is twelve, that Zelda has died, but not how. Nor are they allowed to attend the funeral. There's the question of why the girls' father, Thomas Storm, is so much harsher with Martha than with Lillian. Yet even with Lillian, and the girls' mother, Betty, Thomas insists that everything has to be his way, exactly his way.

Lillian is very much the favored child, and grows up to be just about as rigid and controlling as Thomas. Martha can never quite measure up, is never quite good enough, and learns that she has to, basically, justify her existence by being useful. The creative child who wrote her own fairy tales grows up to be a woman who can connect with other people only through books and by doing tasks for them that they should be doing for themselves.

In books featuring sisters, usually the relationship between the sisters is unrecognizable to me. In this book, that relationship is very, very familiar to me. Both my parents were damaged people in their own ways, but in our family, it was my dad who whatever his flaws, knew he was flawed and damaged by a toxic relationship with his own father. He worked hard to not be the man his father was--a choice the other surviving siblings agreed was a good one. He talked to me about his flaws, said he was doing his best, but that I should be aware that he wasn't always right.

It was my mom who was always sure that her way was the right way. And my younger sister really took after our mother.

The conflict between Martha and her younger sister feels very familiar to me, very much like my conflict with my younger sister. Although, in fairness, I think Lillian is worse.

There are reasons, of course, why Thomas understands and likes Lillian better, reasons why Zelda disappeared, and why Martha was the odd person out in the family. Reasons why Betty lets Thomas make all her decisions for her. But in the end, I couldn't agree with the judgment of a character I won't name, because it would be a spoiler, that Thomas was a good man trying to do what was best for the whole family. No. He was controlling and emotionally abusive, and in some respects the damage to Lillian, the daughter he favored, was even greater than the damage to Martha.

Aside from not being willing to agree to excuse Thomas, though, I found this to be a very humane, emotionally satisfying story. Recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

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