“How can we ever really know what’s true, when all we have to go on is the contents of our heads?”
Callie Taggart is a registered nurse. Due to the fact that she also cares for her mentally unstable brother, Noah, she is yearning for some peace, some rest. The pandemic lockdown was grueling. All the more so because of her profession. When she sees an advertisement for a job as a residential carer, she thinks her prayers have been answered. The job is located at a rural country cottage. Here, with a partner, she will care for the damaged Frey. Largely non-verbal, Frey is in his twenties. He does not look anyone in the eye and displays many of the traits of a person with severe autism and or obsessive compulsive disorder. He is very brilliant in some ways, he is artistic, he has to have everything he comes into contact with to be excessively clean. He hates any disruption to his routine, and most of all, he is terrified of being abandoned.
“When you’ve spent time in hell, mere discomfort seems like a good deal.”
For two weeks Callie and her partner, Josh, live with Frey in his cottage. They are on duty 24/7 accompanied by Frey’s service dog, Floss. Then for two weeks they each go to their own homes. Callie returning to the house she shares with her father and brother. When she is at home, her father works. They take it in turns to care for the volatile, delusional, and manic Noah.
When Callie was only nine years old, her mother left the family home. Callie was relieved as she never felt that her mother loved her.
“You can’t make someone love you if they don’t.”
Now, the day of her shift change, when she is due to return home to care for her brother, she learns that her father and brother were killed in an automobile accident…
“That’s the way our family was, two and two. Dad and me; our mother and Noah. And now, she and I stand side by side…”
This is the fourth novel I’ve read by this author. I loved them all. This time around the author explores care-giving, and how those in need of care were affected by the pandemic. Also, she explores a dysfunctional family, and how the withholding of maternal love for one child impacted the entire family. How having a ‘favorite’ child, affects the family dynamic.
The story is told by Callie who says: “I have to be careful how I tell you this story. This is a story with a monster in it, but it’s possible that monster isn’t always my mother.”
The author displays an acute understanding of those who are outcasts in society. She also has a keen knowledge of the sacrifice and patience it takes to be a full-time carer. In addition to family secrets, this book contains myriad very serious and sensitive themes. The novel is both compelling and dark. I was fully immersed in Callie’s story, then at about the 80% mark, the narrative turned very sad and unsettling. I found I was quite uncomfortable reading towards the end. It speaks to the skillful and poetic writing that I felt this way.
The plot is ‘open-ended’ with the reader having to decide what Callie might have done next. This type of ending is not to everyone’s taste, though it seemed perfect here.
The title was spot-on. Not only were Callie and her mother the ‘leftovers’ of her family, but it also spoke to how those with mental disabilities are the ‘leftovers’ of society.
Highly recommended to readers who enjoy realistic and brilliantly written literary fiction.
I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Legend Press via NetGalley – at my request, for my own reading enjoyment and the writing of this review. Publication date: October 1, 2021
ISBN: 9781800310094 – ASIN: B0986HJBHD – 247 pages
Cassandra Parkin has a Masters degree in English Literature from York University, and has been writing fiction all her life – mostly as Christmas and birthday presents for friends and family. She grew up in Hull, is married with two children, and lives in a small but perfectly-formed village in East Yorkshire. Her first book “New World Fairy Tales” won the 2011 Scott Prize for Short Stories. Her work has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. Her recent novels were published by Legend Press.
Follow Cassandra on Twitter @cassandrajaneuk