4 out of 4 stars
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"Her way of looking at life was incurably pessimistic. Confronted by the unknown, she immediately prepared for the worst. Ordinary occurrences--the doorbell or a ringing telephone--made her wonder, 'What fresh hell is this?' " Marion Meade on author Dorothy Parker
In A Fresh Hell: A Novel by Pauline B. Rogers, Rikki Greene is a movie publicist who has surrounded herself with a tight-knit circle of friends. She adores her dog, Moppet, and often shares her favorite indulgence, McDonald's vanilla ice-cream cones, with her pet. Rikki has a penchant for practical jokes and a close friendship with actor Jake Stanley. Their friendship is on the verge of becoming something more when she receives an urgent phone call. Rikki's controlling mother has died, and she must return to her small hometown in New England. She contemplates "what fresh hell" awaits her as she begins to confront her painful past as Rachel Greenberg.
As a result of her mother's lifelong manipulation, Rikki faces a family she barely knows while she struggles to make funeral arrangements. When she learns of her mother's codicil to her will, Rikki is concerned it will prevent her from selling the family home. She plans to move her father to the Jewish nursing home and needs the funds for his care. Rikki tries to sort out the legal nightmare, but even from her grave, her mother is still controlling her life. Rikki fears she will be forever trapped in her hometown hell. Meanwhile, more painful memories are triggered, revealing a dark family secret. Will Rikki finally be able to leave her past behind to pursue her relationship with Jake?
There is a lot to like about this poignant novel. The author seamlessly intertwines Rikki's past and present, revealing just enough pieces of the puzzle to keep the reader engaged and wanting more. The plot continues to build, as more is revealed about Rikki's childhood and her complicated relationship with her overbearing mother. The author paints a realistic picture of the family's dysfunction and reluctance to become involved despite their awareness that something is wrong. When I selected the book, I read that the story was based loosely on the author's life; I sensed this as I read. Writing from personal experience conveys a level of depth and authenticity that rarely originates from creativity alone.
I most liked the well-developed characters the book features. The portrayal of Rikki's painful relationship with her mother is raw, intense, and relatable. Although Rikki's mother is abusive, the book also captures aspects of the mother-daughter relationship that are universal and will translate to both mothers and daughters. Without revealing spoilers, Rikki deals with two other issues that are particularly relevant to women. Once again, the author's portrayal of Rikki’s emotions and responses are spot-on. I also appreciated the dark humor the author used to balance the story and occasionally lighten the mood. Rikki's conversations with her friend Pam, a sassy soap-opera star, are especially amusing.
It was exceptionally edited, and I can't think of a single thing I disliked about the book. I'm pleased to rate it 4 out of 4 stars. I recommend it to readers who enjoy fiction related to family drama and dark humor. However, I would not recommend it to readers who may be triggered by references to child abuse as it does include some Mommie Dearest moments.
a fresh hell: A Novel
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