Monday, September 3, 2018

Book Review: A Fist Around the Heart

A Fist Around the HeartA Fist Around the Heart by Heather Chisvin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A short novel that has many interesting facts in it. My personal favourite fact was that Avon originated as the California Perfume Company. Unfortunately A Fist Around the Heart reads less like a novel and more like a biography. Now if that appeals to you then you may find this an interesting book. However if you are looking for a mystery or thriller, like the blurb implies, you should head elsewhere.

The Story
Set predominantly in New York Heather Chisvin tells the story of two sisters. One whom is our narrator and the other whom is the older sister to the narrator. As I suspected it starts out with our narrator as a child. There's always something unreliable about a child narrator...
Our story progresses quickly to tell about the adult lives of the women. One (our narrator) that runs away to New York; and the other who chooses to stay in Winnipeg, where her parents (presumably) sent her and her sister as children. While there is a mystery to be solved here, did the sister in Winnipeg commit suicide or not, this is really the story of a New York girl and her struggles with being a single, childless Russian woman. She has hardships, but preservers during a time when so many fall destitute, that of WWII. It's an interesting perspective on women's rights and struggles prior to receiving the vote and to the Nazi's attempt to take over the world. I have nothing but huge respect for the women who came before us that worked so hard for the rights women deserve including: voting, birth control, abortion, marriage, and more.

Medical Interest
There is a point late in the story, where there is an interesting medical condition presented to the readers. I really enjoyed this part. I can't give anything away for fear of spoiling the mystery; but I can say that it's an interesting concept and makes me wonder if more people don't have this condition than we currently believe. I am also not sure what this condition is called today; or what it might be treated with. So more research is needed for me.

Like I said in the intro, the mystery here is really not the focus of the story. It's more used to move the main narrative forward; to tell the story of our narrator. Not to say that it isn't intriguing; but I found the jumping back and forth between current day (in the book) to the past a little bit annoying. While I usually love books with this set-up; here it felt a bit too stilted and the progressions were lacked the smoothness I desire. That said, it was always obvious to me, even without headers declaring the historical moment, what the time period was.

I feel like there is more that could be done with this story. As this is Chisvins first fictional piece, she's a journalist, I can see why the book is written the way it is. Instead of giving more elaboration to the events and adding some juicy, literary descriptions; Chisvin focuses on facts. Very much like a journalist is required to do. There is obviously a lot of autobiographical material in A Fist Around the Heart and so I cannot in any way criticize the story; and I wouldn't anyways. The story is solid, it's the execution that is unusual. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy reading this. Just to say that it reads differently than your average historical fiction; or fiction book in general.
It would be interesting for this story to be told one of two ways in the future. First choice is as an actual autobiography of Chisvin. I'm interested to know what is really truth and what she developed into the fiction. Second as a true mystery story. With more developed setting, descriptions and literary devices used. The concept, story and outcome in the hands of a well-developed mystery writer could easily be a huge hit; and still bring a lot of light to the circumstances of the time periods portrayed. I'd definitely read another version of this if it was re-written in either way listed above.
And yet, I did really enjoy this story. It taught me things; from small facts (like Avon) to larger issues (like the medical condition) and afterall I usually just want a book to teach me something and entertain me. A Fist Around the Heart did do both of these to different degrees.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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1 comment:

Leonore Winterer said...

Sounds very interesting, even if it's not a 'typical' mystery story. You had me with the medical condition, I always enjoy reading about strange or unusual conditions (yes, I'm odd like that :D )