August 29, 2014


This debut novelist describes herself as "an avid reader of just about every genre (plenty of YA, a smidge of Sci-Fi, buckets of horror, a dash of literary, even some graphic novels)." Her familiarity with both horror and literary works shines through in this beautifully covered, emotional novel. Compelling, powerful, and heartbreaking, full of spare, evocative language and shutter-blink leaps between Maybe Real and Maybe Not Real, the reader is sent on a quietly harrowing internal journey, from an echoing hole inside, to one filled up with the barbaric yawp which screams within those of us who refuse to sit down quietly and die. This is a story of grief, and the quiet triumph of one girl over loss.

He comes close, wraps his arms around me, pulls me to him. His smells fill my nose -- mint, to try to cover the whiskey. Paint, to cover up his pain. One arm holds me against him. His other hand reaches of a dishtowel and presses it to my back. A pillow for his gun, still damp from Mom doing dishes. "Be over in a minute, sweetheart." I turn my cheek, rest it on his shoulder, watch the window's empty place. I see a mosaic of fear, of rage, of nothing left.

Listen to the first chapter of TIN LILY, read aloud by the author on her site.

Summary: The situation with Lily Berkshire's alcoholic father, Hank, has deteriorated to the point where she and her mother, Rachel, pack up and leave. A visit to Seattle, a break and time to heal, and then they return to Utah where they find a tiny, shabby house next to a dog food plant and try to make a life. There are some good times - some happy times, because without the accusations, the sarcastic, flaying words, slurred speech and the arguments, they can finally relax, and sleep the night through. Until the phone rings, anyway. Nightly, Lily's father calls and accuses. Calls, and cracks the veneer on Lily's mind. Is her mother really hiding money? Is she really sleeping around with every guy she met? Is it really Mom's fault that things have gone so bad? Of course not -- when she's not scared, Lily knows the truth: Dad's an artist, and his father, whom he could never please, berated him, lied to him, convinced him to come and work for him -- and then poisoned him again. He's an abusive alcoholic and it's not Lily's mother's fault... but if her mother is a little late coming home from work, Lily wonders... questions... doubts.

For awhile, that's the worst thing about Hank, the worst thing he does. Makes Lily doubt her own mind. Until he does something even worse --

Life after losing her mother is an irregular checkerboard of moments when Lily's not always entirely in her right mind. Sometimes, she just has to go away, to a place where... well, she's not sure where she goes, she's just gone. She's also not sure what she's seeing is real, or if her mind playing tricks. She keeps smelling whiskey and mint: real stench, or fear? And, that pair of paint-spattered boots next to her feet... is anyone really standing next to her? Tension builds as the reader silently urges Lily to wake up -- look up -- before it's too late.

Peaks: I love books where I learn something. This novel has information about metallurgy in it -- and I learned that tin makes a little soft crackling noise when it's bent -- the atoms move together and makes a sound wave. It's kind of a disturbing tiny knuckle-cracking sound. I also got to revisit Seattle in my mind's eye - the Pike Market is beautifully described, and I got a little Seattle-sick for a moment.

Another thing I love is the diversity in this novel. Seattle is a city which skews toward certain kinds of diversity and not others, but the story naturally and wonderfully provides difference -- and similarities -- in the way that we are human. It was beautifully done, and I can say nothing else.

Lily is such a deeply sympathetic narrator that the reader wants to trust her, but soon realizes she's utterly untrustworthy - unintentionally hiding things even from herself. That capability is what makes this book so much like looking through a kaleidoscope; the picture keeps changing and changing and changing. This may be a hanky book for some readers -- I had that cannonball in my gut feeling as I was miserable along with the main character, but when, in the midst of a party, she is carried away to a dark place, I suddenly had a lot of things in my eye. And in my throat. And in my nose. And, when other people share with her what their triggers are, it's a powerful moment of recognition - and a reminder that Lily - though she feels like a hollow metal doll, bending and crying, instead of a living girl - is not alone.

Valleys...: There are no valleys; this book is well paced, heartbreaking, disturbing, moving, and ultimately, joyful in that raw kind of joy that's like the first clean breath after a hard cry. It's a novel about being driven to the jagged edge - going beyond - and dragging oneself back.

You can find TIN LILY by JOANN SWANSON online, or at the independent bookstore Rediscovered Books.


Joann Swanson said...

Wow, Tanita, this is one of the most beautifully written reviews I've ever read and the fact that it's about my book is just beyond thrilling. Enthusiastic readers like you are one of the reasons I write and I thank you for reminding me of that. I will be sharing this until people are thoroughly sick of me. :o)

tanita✿davis said...

@Joann Swanson: THANK YOU so much for writing this book - and please ping me when you write another one! Amazing authors like you are catnip to enthusiastic readers like me. ☺