A young photographer deals with psychological wounds from her narcissistic mother and father.
As this novel begins in 2004, young Artie (short for Artimeza) is recovering in a swank facility following a mental breakdown after catching her husband and her mother, Serena, engaging in oral sex. As Artie speaks to her compassionate psychiatrist, Dr. Ligon, intermittent flashbacks (from several characters’ points of view) fill in past details, particularly the painful period in 1990 when Artie was 10 and her mother abandoned her. Readers slowly learn how Serena also faced a childhood marked by abandonment; how Artie’s father, Rico, contributed to the unhealthy family dynamic; and how Serena’s conviction that she’s worthless affects her life. “Like your mother, your father put his needs before yours,” Dr. Ligon explains. “That narcissistic behavior results in negative feelings. But you didn’t learn that you had a right to express those feelings.” Artie struggles to understand her past, acknowledge the truth of her pain, and to forgive, especially when she’s tempted to get revenge on her mother after leaving the hospital and being pursued by Serena’s younger lover. Through the course of this novel, both mother and daughter learn to understand themselves and each other better—often backed by the sound of the jazz music they both love. Johnson (Vibrant And Clear: How To Be Acne Free, Naturally!, 2012, etc.) writes with sensitivity and a good ear for dialogue. She is both musically and psychologically acute, showing a solid understanding of the subtlety and flamboyance of narcissism. Her view of forgiveness is multilayered, and her characters’ mostly mixed-race status adds an interesting dimension to their experiences, e.g., in several backgrounds, a history of “passing for white.” Serena, so beautiful and talented, is defensive about her skin color: “She wanted…to show them that though she may not have been able to pass, she was beautiful nonetheless.” For Serena, that “nonetheless” means dark skin is something to overcome, not something to appreciate.
Insightful about racial and family relationships and the power to forgive.