Climbing the Rock Within by Jennifer Haig

Climbing the Rock Within

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Haig’s debut novel depicts the world as perceived by a young girl with a damaged brain.
Rose is the youngest of four children born to wealthy parents in San Francisco. As an infant, she suffers a high fever that results in disorienting seizures; however, her parents dismiss her illness as “ ‘fainting spells’ that were ‘nothing.’ ” Perpetually afraid of blacking out, Rose goes on to have difficulty relating normally to other children. She filters her childhood experiences through a skewed, sometimes hallucinatory point of view that mirrors her disjointed perspective: “A boom of chatter drenched me; fragrances pierced my nostrils.” As Rose grows up in the 1960s and ’70s, she becomes even more estranged from her emotionally remote parents, who seem to resent her very existence. Rose also feels distant from her siblings—particularly her brother Patrick, who abuses her. As an adult, she moves to new homes frequently, searching for a sense of identity that always eludes her. Everything she tries backfires: “It was another form of suicide, another bizarre, naive way to run away from home.” After a suicide attempt, she meets a psychiatrist, Dr. Landorem, who helps her finally live a somewhat normal life. The narrative’s conclusion bogs down, though, in a perplexing legal dispute between Rose’s father and her doctor. Overall, the story seems as disorganized as Rose’s mind, stuttering between past and present, current events and memory, and sometimes even segueing into poetry. Although this stream-of-consciousness style reflects Rose’s fractured point of view, it may be difficult for readers to figure out what’s actually happening, as the author offers relatively little guidance. Rose’s unusual perspective frequently provides readers with keen glimpses into different ways of thinking, such as when she describes the hospital as “a monster, waiting to eat me.” However, it can also be vague and apparently meaningless: “I wanted to be around those who appeared to be therapeutically penetrating my need for expression.” Rose’s damaged relationships with her family members are clearly the crux of the conflict, but their squabbling seems endless and is never adequately resolved.
Flashes of insight into an unusual psyche enliven an otherwise muddled coming-of-age story.
Pub Date: March 31st, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4575-2279-6
Page count: 292pp
Publisher: Dog Ear
Program: Kirkus Indie
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