Book Review: Unraveling by Elizabeth Graver

Title: Unraveling
Author: Elizabeth Graver
Published: 1997
Genre: Adult Literary Fiction – Historical Fiction

Summary: Growing up on a small New England farm, a determined young nineteenth-century woman named Aimee Slater ventures to Lowell, Massachusetts, to find work, a move that leads to a split with her mother.

My Rating:  1/2

I have such conflicting emotions about this book, I had to sleep on it before deciding the star rating because for a good 60% of this book, it was a 1 star read but the ending really brought it together but I still can’t forget that I suffered more than the first half. So quick summary:

Aimee starts the book being a 38 year old woman in the 1860s who lives in a bog, away from society and she only gets 2 visitors, Amos her lover who is missing a leg and she nurses his wound and Plumey a young girl who is considered the village idiot but really she had a traumatic childhood. Then Aimee begins to recount her life as a child growing up in a farm in the adjacent land. The relationships that become central to her life and follow her throughout is the one with her mother (this was the strongest point of the book) and then the one with her brother Jeremiah who was a year younger than her but they could almost pass for twins. The relationship with Jeremiah, the event that led to them falling apart and the subsequent constant shadow of that event absolutely ruined the book for me. I couldn’t get past how much it jarred me out of the book each time she mentioned it. After this event, Aimee leaves her family against their wishes and takes a job in a mill to earn money for her dowry, things go to shit there, to the point that she’s never able to fully recuperate and she spends the rest of her life mending.

The best parts of this book are the thug and pull with her Mom and also her relationship with Amos, I don’t know why I enjoyed it so much. I think it was the spot of happiness in such a dark depressing book. Much the way she lives next to the bog, I felt I was suctioned into this bog while reading it, it just pulled me down into these dark human thoughts and desires and I didn’t like it one bit. I don’t enjoy books like this; overly literary, self-aware, and contrived to showcase a point.

The problem I had with the Jeremiah angle is that Aimee could have had deep love for her brother as a sister, I am very close to my younger brother and if something would happen to him I’d be devastated. However Graver chose to manifest Aimee’s sexual repression by having the children fondle one another when they were 11/10 yrs of age and that moment carries with Aimee for the rest of her life. The obsession she had with Jeremiah made it clear to me that she constantly desired him and his death (this is not a spoiler she tells you in chapter 1 that he died) was that of a lover not of a brother. It plunged her into despair and suicidal thoughts. In addition to feeling icky about the whole incest thing, Graver’s language made it so… crude almost. She uses words such as fondled, paleness, grasped, cupped – I couldn’t handle it. Not only are we talking about children here but I’m getting this vivid imagery that made me incredibly uncomfortable. The first time she makes love to a man she speaks of desiring him to fill her so that she can get Jeremiah ‘out’ of her. Just… it was a lot.

The POV of older Aimee was a completely different character, I enjoyed her very much and I think I enjoyed the ending of the book so much because young Aimee’s story is done and older Aimee continues it. Overall, I can say with certainty I will not read another Graver book again and unfortunately I hated too much of it to enjoy the rest.

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