The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire by Sandra Hutchison is an excellent character-driven novel with a controversial and possibly disturbing theme for some readers. It will be difficult to read for survivors of violence both intentional and accidental; it could be difficult to read for their relatives. This is not a trigger warning, there is no need for one. There is no overtly offensive sexual language although there are frank depictions of sexual suggestiveness as some characters debate the merits of what might be called “shock art.” It is a highly emotional novel with a conclusion I did not like but the quality writing that preceded it led me to give it five Amazon stars. The review is difficult to write because it could inadvertently contain spoilers. To avoid this, my review will be a brief description of the principal characters and the importance of their appearance in the story.
David Asken is a principal character who will go through multiple tortuous life changes as he deals with violence that for the most part involves pain of those associated with him. He undergoes terrible disfigurement as a result of a plane crash but his dealing with physical pain and disfigurement is the least of the troublesome things he will encounter. His story is about acceptance of his loss, acceptance of the struggles surrounding mental disintegration, and acceptance of totally unexpected actions on his part that he feels necessary to help others in their life struggles.
Elaine Asken, David’s wife, is present in the novel through journals she has written. The journals were not meant for David’s eyes and he is not the first to read them after their discovery. The journal entries, available to David while he is involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, create first doubt then hope. They will not lead David to a definitive answer but his detailed struggle to interpret them is an important part of his growth in recovery.
Emily Asken, David’s daughter, is presented through what she left behind, both in the mind of David and in physical objects, such as toys and clothes. She is important in David’s recovery as a counterpoint to Elaine in David’s memory. While David might occasionally doubt Elaine; there is no doubt about Emily.
Molly Carmichael was a babysitter for the Asken family. She lived across the street from the Askens. Elaine almost adopted Molly when Molly needed an alternative place to stay. Molly had other alternative places to camp out. She occasionally spent the nights with BFF Kim. She might spend the night at her father’s house where he lived with his new wife and her children. She might stay over at the Asken house when she did babysitting and the Askens came home late. She also helped Elaine as a part-time housekeeper. Her journal entries about Molly surprised Molly about the depth of knowledge Elaine had about her and her mother, Cassandra. She continued to be the housekeeper for David during his recovery. She cooked, cleaned, and helped David with managing and organizing the house after Elaine and Emily’s absence.
Molly felt she needed alternative places to live because of the activities of her ultra-liberal and free-thinking mother, Cassandra. Cassandra created “shock” art and became famous for it. In their small community, Molly felt she was too famous. Art which celebrated Molly’s puberty resulted in Molly’s change to a private upper-class high school to avoid the taunts of public school classmates. Cassandra’s latest planned artwork required research that Cassandra believed could only be done through experience with a wide variety of sexual partners. Molly spent some of her weekends at her Dad’s house during which time Cassandra did research. Molly watched the driveway to know when it was safe to go home. The rest of the neighborhood watched Cassandra’s driveway as well. There was collateral damage to Molly’s reputation. Cassandra was very open about her lifestyle to Molly and gave very explicit directions to Molly on how and why to engage in a sexually active lifestyle. Molly did not desire such a lifestyle and this is a turning point in the story.
There are other important characters in this novel. Colin, one of Cassandra’s boyfriends, would eventually move into Molly’s home. His views as a black man and a British visiting professor, in other words, a temporary boyfriend, lend a lot to this story and provide a title for this book. There is Denise, a long-suffering sister of David who is annoying in her passive-aggressive attempts at helping David. There is Kim, the BFF who really isn’t such a good friend. And there are the several classmates of Molly from both private school and her former public school.
Hopefully, these short character descriptions will encourage the reader to explore the novel. Despite the ending I didn’t like, I highly recommend the book. And I don’t believe I have included any spoilers. Additionally, this is one of those high-quality novels that frequently are offered through Kindle Unlimited and make the subscription worth its cost.