ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS by Bryn Greenwood
Kirkus Star

ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS

Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Greenwood’s powerful, provocative debut chronicles a desolate childhood and a discomfiting love affair.

Wavy (short for Wavonna) is only 5 when we meet her in 1975, but she’s already been thoroughly traumatized by her meth-addicted mother, Val, whose stint in jail sends the girl to her Aunt Brenda’s house in Tulsa. Wavy barely talks and doesn’t eat—or rather, her cousins discover one night, eats out of the garbage pail when everyone else is asleep. We learn after Val is paroled and reclaims Wavy that Scary Mama has been known to stick fingers down her daughter’s throat to remove “dirty” food and then wash out Wavy’s mouth with Listerine. Her drug-dealing husband, Liam, mostly keeps to his own quarters on their ranch compound; his open infidelities send Val into fits of immobilizing depression and catatonia-inducing substance abuse, while Wavy struggles to take care of baby brother Donal and keep attending school. Only Kellen, a low-level enforcer for Liam who is also the survivor of childhood neglect, shows her any kindness or care. As the years go by in Greenwood’s episodic tale, we see this affection-starved girl and damaged man fall in love. Wavy is only 13 when their relationship turns sexual, and when Aunt Brenda finds out, she labels Kellen a rapist and works to keep them apart. The multiple narrators don’t mince words as they describe a thoroughly sordid milieu and various squalid events that climax in a violent denouement that threatens to separate Wavy and Kellen permanently. Greenwood limns her characters with matter-of-fact empathy, inviting us to respect the resourcefulness and resilience with which Wavy surmounts her dangerously disordered circumstances to craft a life and a love. It’s no storybook romance, but the novel closes on a note of hard-won serenity, with people who deserve a second chance gathered together.

Intelligent, honest, and unsentimental.

Pub Date: Aug. 9th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-250-07413-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2016




SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

FictionMERRY MEN by Carolyn Chute
by Carolyn Chute
FictionTHE BEAN TREES by Barbara Kingsolver
by Barbara Kingsolver
FictionBACK ROADS by Tawni O’Dell
by Tawni O’dell