Becky Mandelbaum comes to the blog with her debut offering
The Bright Side Sanctuary for Animals
Set in western Kansas, this story is a study of relationships, healing, grief and reconnections, all set within the confines of an animal sanctuary /rescue operation. Told in third person omniscient, the major voices here are Mona and Ariel, mother and daughter, and their relationship stressors and difficulties as the story moves forward. Essentially, the story starts right after the current administration’s election, and is laden with the disheartened, depressed and discouraged attitudes of the people, worried about what is to come. But the story started long ago, in Mona’s childhood after her mother’s death, her discomfort with emotions and people, and the repeat of the fractured childhood in her own life. When Ariel was due to enter high school, friendless and ostracized because of her mother’s obsession with and all focus directed to the animals she’s taken in, her father left the family – and left her feeling unseen and unloved: even more than before. When she takes her own steps and leaves home, it is six years and after seeing a report of a fire at the Bright Side that she returns. To make amends, to help, to see what may have been: even Ariel isn’t sure what she’s doing.
In the intervening years, Mona has isolated herself and been constantly against every bit of change or ‘new way’ of doing things possible. Her gruff manner, her obsession (to the exclusion of all else) with the animals, and her never-expressed feelings of abandonment, fear or even the inevitability of the sanctuary closure all seem to be designed to push away any chances for her to find compassion, empathy or friendship. With the return of her daughter, and the two having no idea how to bridge the gaps between them: the story has painful moments where the tension fairly crackles off the page, but it is easy (and a great feat from the author) to make both characters complex AND empathetic – you want to see them make amends, find peace and discover the answers to questions LONG unanswered, even those both are afraid to ask.
I’ll be honest and say I was about 4 or 5 chapters in before the pieces started to fall into place and bits started to make sense, and the introverted nature of both Ariel and Mona, and their communion with the animals did speak to me, and you can’t go far wrong with the interactions between animals and people. But contrasting the relative ease and comfort in relating to the animals is dramatically different from human interactions and the complexities, long-held hurts and slights, and the general fraught relationships between mothers and daughters that are ever-present even in the best circumstances. Mandelbaum has taken several easily-sorted issues (from a writing perspective) and added complexity, difficult (and often) not easily answered questions and issues that range from ‘good intentions’ to overwhelmed and barely striking a balance to the good, and made the story sing. A lovely debut offering that promised a story that was laden with good intentions and circumstances that pushed everything off course to deliver a story that ends with hope and heart, and leaves you thinking long after the book is closed.
Title: The Bright Side Sanctuary for Animals
Author: Becky Mandelbaum
Genre: Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction - Adult, Dual Narration, Family Saga, Second Chance, Setting: American, Woman's Fiction
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Published on: 4 August, 2020
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Audio Length: 9 Hours: 55 minutes
Get Your Copy: Amazon ♦ Barnes&Noble ♦ iTunes ♦ Kobo ♦ Downpour ♦ IndieBound ♦ Google ♦Audible ♦Direct from Publisher
From the winner of the 2016 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction comes a tender and funny debut novel, set over one emotionally charged weekend at an animal sanctuary in western Kansas, where maternal, romantic, and community bonds are tested in the wake of an estranged daughter’s homecoming.
The Bright Side Sanctuary for Animals is in trouble.
It’s late 2016 when Ariel discovers that her mother Mona’s animal sanctuary in Western Kansas has not only been the target of anti-Semitic hate crimes—but that it’s also for sale, due to hidden financial ruin. Ariel, living a new life in progressive Lawrence, and estranged from her mother for six long years, knows she has to return to her childhood home—especially since her own past may have played a role in the attack on the sanctuary. Ariel expects tension, maybe even fury, but she doesn’t anticipate that her first love, a ranch hand named Gideon, will still be working at the Bright Side.
Back in Lawrence, Ariel’s charming but hapless fiancé, Dex, grows paranoid about her sudden departure. After uncovering Mona’s address, he sets out to confront Ariel, but instead finds her grappling with the life she’s abandoned. Amid the reparations with her mother, it’s clear that Ariel is questioning the meaning of her life in Lawrence, and whether she belongs with Dex or with someone else, somewhere else.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.