April and Oliver grew up within a tight knit yet dysfunctional extended family. They are cousins through the marriage of Nana and her second husband. There has been a sexual tension between them since adolescents; but where April jumped right in to where her demons led her, Oliver stayed the course of propriety and parental expectations. When Oliver, who went to college in California, returns to New York with his fiancé, he gets involved with April’s drama immediately. He hadn’t been home long when Buddy, April’s younger brother and his once good friend, dies in an automobile accident. He cannot avoid trying to help April and this desire to make sure she is okay creates tension between him and his fiancé. April doesn’t like having a reminder of her past and her mistakes around either. They both need to learn to come to terms with their past or make the decision to stay out of each other’s lives.
Anne Taintor and the calendar graphic for this month fits April to a tee. April so knowingly making the same mistake over and over that she frustrated me more than Oliver before I made it half way through the novel.April & Oliver is an interesting novel about the way in which childhood traumas and abuses can set an otherwise smart woman up for a cycle of men who are both not good enough for her and tend to be abusive themselves. There is something in the psyche of abused children and adolescents that either leads them to believe that they are not good enough to expect the best out of their mates, or they just do not know how to act around people who are not abusive. April very much fell into that trap. Abused in her father’s bar, she never leaves. Instead of taking courses or going away to college, she becomes a bartender. Instead of going out with decent guys, she nearly purposefully attracts and seduces those who are even more messed up emotionally than she is. I love
Oliver was also an interesting study of a man who is somewhat of a pleaser. He loved piano. By the time he was in high school, he was playing and composing his own music. His parents, most especially his mother, did not feel that music held a promising future. Instead of following his dream, he ended up going to college to eventually enter law school. He also feels responsible for his cousin April. Despite the fact that what happened to her was not his fault, he spends his time and energy after Buddy’s death to try to save her from herself. He puts her first over his fiancé and his education. As a result of him pursuing a life he didn’t necessarily want for himself and trying to save April, his life becomes out of control, eventually making him become a person he doesn’t like or recognize.
While I found myself too annoyed with April to love this book as much as I had anticipated that I would, April & Oliver is a strong debut novel. I wouldn’t have gotten so frustrated with her if I didn’t care. Tess Callahan certainly created characters who felt true and oh so very human. For example, their grandmother, a woman who knew them better than anyone else, made decisions with her own life that had a great impact on her children and grandchildren. Perhaps this came back upon her full circle when they didn’t tell her about her grandson’s death, deciding yet again that secrets are better than the truth. God may not punish children for their parent’s mistakes, but no one is exempt from the earthly consequences. If your reading interests involve family dynamics, co-dependency, and relationships, you should read this novel. The ending is not clichéd and it left so much open for the reader to decide and interpret. There are a lot of people who will connect with these likable (albiet self-destructive) characters and enjoy this story.
Special thanks to Miriam at Hatchette Book Group for providing me with this review copy!
April & Oliver was just released on Tueday. To buy this novel, click here.