While investigating the life of a Regency-era child artist, British novelist Myerson (Out of Breath, 2008, etc.) endures her own son’s drug addiction.
Mary Yelloly died in 1838, leaving behind a marvelous watercolor picture-book composed years earlier detailing the lives of an imaginary family closely based on her own. Who was she, and how did the premature death and loss of this unrealized talent alter the lives of the large, very real family she left behind? Myerson’s search for this “lost child” yields some answers, none terribly engrossing, but it quickly becomes clear that the Yelloly story is subordinate to that of another lost child, her own 17-year-old, who was addicted to skunk, a potent strain of cannabis more dangerous in some ways than heroin. The product of an emotionally abusive alcoholic father, Myerson resolved early on that for her own children, “There will never be any terrible, stupid rules. I will love them. I will just love them.” The inadequacy of this childrearing strategy—too late, she understands that love is not the solution, but rather “the most irresistible part of the problem”—became apparent as her son virtually abandoned school, vilely abused his parents, stole from them, trashed their home and gave his siblings drugs. Even after summoning the will, finally, to evict the boy from her home, the parents ended up paying for his casual girlfriend’s abortion and following his trail of stiffed landlords. As the inquiry into Yelloly closes with the discovery of her grave beneath a church carpet, Myerson’s relationship with her son, himself a would-be poet, remains strained, his drug dependency unresolved. Though her heart breaks, she resolves to maintain her tough-love stance toward a beloved child, about whom she writes with motherly tenderness.
An odd, not always successful conflation of two stories—two artistic young people from separate centuries, one gone too soon, the other, for now, missing in action.