February 25, 2013

BOOKS: An Age of Madness, David Maine (2012)

Freud would say I'm a lousy mother. But then Freud would say lots of things. He'd declare me a textbook case, overbearing but emotionally distant, doomed to produce maladapted children. There's even a name for women like me: schizophrogenic mothers. Of course, Freud invented names for all sorts of things whether they existed or not, and then happily accused anyone nearby of doing, or being, or having, most of them.
That's our introduction to Regina, the central character of David Maine's An Age of Madness, and it's instantly clear that while she may not be the most likable person, she's got a lot to say and she's by god going to say it.

Regina's a psychologist, and her bitter, sardonic view of life isn't without justification; her husband died when she was only 34, leaving her to raise their daughter, Anna, on her own. Anna's now 17, struggling to adjust to college life, and doesn't seem much interested in talking to Regina during their rare phone calls.

Regina's finding it harder to have patience with, or show much compassion for, the clients she sees in her private practice and at the state hospital where she works. And she can't figure out why she's finding herself drawn to a new orderly who's fifteen years younger than she is.

The death of Regina's husband is the central mystery of the novel, and it doesn't take long to figure out that we're not being told everything. The structure of that story is a bit formulaic, with a new bombshell detail being revealed at predictably regular intervals. But even when I could see that a new surprise was on the way, the precise nature and details of the revelation still managed to catch me off guard.

Maine's characters are the novel's strong suit. Regina has a sharp and distinctive voice, and Maine's not afraid to let her be unlikable. The principal supporting characters, Anna and Russell (Regina's orderly beau), are equally well drawn, and Maine is very good at letting us see them through Regina's eyes in ways that let us understand how that view might be distorting things.

I'm a big fan of Maine, and while his Biblical novels are still my favorites, An Age of Madness is a marvelous book, and Regina is a crisply defined character who grabbed my attention and would not let go.

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