After enjoying one of Liza Palmer’s other books, Conversations with the Fat Girl, I was looking forward to reading her latest work, A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents. Her work might best be described as darker chick lit; there’s still an emphasis on a career girl making good and finding love, but Palmer usually includes a twist. Here, that twist is the death of a parent: an unlikely subject for this genre, but, perhaps, a more realistic one.
Connie makes a great, believable villain. She’s perhaps the novel’s most vivid character, and the book takes off with her first appearance. While she seems like a sweet old lady, she’s really a lying bitch. It’s a credit to Palmer’s authorship that the character never becomes a caricature; instead, she seems like an actual person, focused on her small and hurtful manipulations. Readers are probably meant to side with the heroine, Grace, and her family against Connie, and I found myself feeling for them quickly. Connie’s the kind of character you want to slap, which for me is one of the marks of a well-drawn villain.
And yet, I didn’t get as excited about the other characters. Grace, the over-whelmed, anxious heroine, is set up to acquire our sympathy, as are her siblings, with one parent dead and another dying. Palmer makes it easy for the reader to empathize with the pain this family is in as they watch their father’s slow deterioration and refuse to believe he’s going to leave them a second time. Granted, their feelings are influenced by the fact that he’s been such an absent parent, and deeply hurt them by leaving them once already. In a sense, with their mother’s loss still haunting them, they’re losing a parent for the third time. No matter how much financial or emotional success anyone achieves, this kind of loss is a difficult, deeply saddening experience to go through. Apart from feeling that sense of sympathy, though, I had a hard time being as invested in the other characters’ happiness as I was in rooting for Connie’s downfall. (I did, however, cry along with Grace when bad things happened.)
One stumbling block for me with A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents was how it shifted back and forth in time, while always staying in the present tense. There’s something about present tense books–maybe it’s that sense of breathlessness, or immediacy–that usually doesn’t satisfy me, although there are exceptions, of course. Here, sometimes, when the book went into flashback mode while staying in the present tense, I got confused: where and when in Grace’s life were we?
Verdict: overall, this is a fun read about a delicate subject, containing an excellent villain, and placing emphasis on family, fidelity, and laughter.
Rachel, who has a Ph.D. in English, is a freelance writer/editor and a voracious reader. You can talk to her about books at http://twitter.com/writehandmann.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by 5 Spot. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.