Had I not opened up the email from a publicist, I might have missed Susan K. Perry's first novel, Kylie's Heel -- and that would have been a shame. I opened the email because I recognized the author's name from her earlier, successful book about creativity, Writing in Flow (disclosure: I was among the writers interviewed for the book, and was quoted, as I recall, a couple of times.)
With the plethora of books put out by publishers these days, it's hard for a first novel to attract attention, so let me pass this on to readers: Kylie's Heel is a terrific read. It's one of those books whose well-devised plot makes it difficult to write about without spoiling things for the reader. Let me just say that it starts out as an empty-nest story, with Kylie's dearly-loved, only son graduating from high school, getting ready to go off to college -- and heading off, between times, on a goodwill mission to a far-off African nation, lured by a rather ditzy, "Jews for Jesus" aunt and the evangelical church of which she is a member.
Kylie is, let's say it, a protective mother; and the first half of the book has her worried sick for her son's safety. The second half... well, read it for yourself. What Kylie has to deal with is more than should be required of any mother, and the way she deals with it becomes the substance of the story: a full-fledged and deeply emotional interior struggle that culminates in a flirtation -- no, a love affair -- with thoughts of suicide. Perry presents us with an entirely convincing, deeply moving portrait of a human soul in conflict.
But there's a lighter side to the story. Perry -- and Kylie with her -- has a quirky sense of the absurdity of life. Her character writes a newspaper advice column as The Rational Woman, handing out wry nuggets of advice to those struggling with life's problems. Little does she expect to be herself confronted so brutally with the irrational forces that beset her correspondents. She owns and manages a complex of cottages in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, and the community in and around her home share her quirky human fallibility. We move in and out amongst them, enjoying their idiosyncracies and their often odd relationships.
I happen to share Perry's long-standing familiarity with this district, centered around the reservoir which is often as silver as its name suggests; and I found it a genuine pleasure to be driving those streets with her, and visiting the street markets, the shops, and the restaurants I know quite well. I think any reader will share that pleasure, because Perry describes it all with such poetry, such love, such attention to detail that it becomes alive.
Kylie's "heel," her Achilles heel -- at least from the Buddhist point of view -- is her attachment: watching her, we are invited to contemplate the devastating suffering it brings into our lives. Her salvation -- again from the Buddhist point of view -- is compassion: the compassion of a fellow human being, whom at first she barely knows; and eventually compassion for herself. Please read Kylie's Heel. I promise you'll be well rewarded.
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