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Review: Cape Maybe by Carol Fragale Brill

Summary
In Cape Maybe, Katie is raised by a troubled mother who struggles with alcoholism and a proclivity for dangerous men. Eventually, she is taken in by her loving grandfather and great uncle, and is provided a far more stable environment. However, when her grandfather, Poppi, suddenly dies, she is left mostly an orphan—her father was killed in the war when she was small, and her mother chooses a life of substance abuse over her family. Eventually, she progresses too far into her own self-inflicted psychosis to be anything but a burden for Katie. 

Throughout the novel, Katie maintains a secret attraction to her best male friend, Dennis. However, he is more interested in her female best friend, Cam, who is worldly and self-assured. To cope with her ever-changing life, Katie slowly begins to use alcohol to dull the pain and doubts she constantly feels. When she becomes pregnant and has a baby girl, she struggles more so to carve out an identity for herself. Luckily, she’s inherited her grandfather’s word-working talent, and shows real promise. However, she seems to have also inherited her mother’s escapist weaknesses for the drink. 

Review
Cape Maybe is about a self-fulfilling prophecy at its core—one brought on by a troubled mother and child’s grievous attempts at understanding. Katie is constantly at odds with the “nature versus nurture” hypothesis—has she inherited her mother’s substance abuse tendencies, or is she merely coping with the hardships that life has thrown her? 

The novel reads like a journal—it’s a small story, never leaving the tiny coastal town where its characters are from. It’s about the everyday familial struggle, the way life alters plans and relationships and doesn’t bother checking to see if you’ve kept up.

For the most part, I sympathized with Katie. The foreshadowing is a little heavy-handed at times, and I was constantly trying to figure out just how self-aware Katie really was about her actions. I think this had a good bit to do with the plot pacing. It was generally brisk, but it highlighted certain scenes that I didn’t think were necessary to the story’s core. Other times, though, it skipped ahead before I was fully done with a scene, and that was both frustrating and disorienting. 

I admire the characterizations in this novel, though. Katie is a talented young woman who is, at her best, a kind and loving mother. The reader doesn’t have to seek out her obvious love for her child and family, but her goodness, at times, is masked by the demons that seem to plague the female side of her family. 

There were times when I questioned some of the story “threads”. Things are brought up but never fully explained. Even at the end of the novel, I had so many questions. I understand that the author was attempting to convey a “new start” for Katie, and that her possible recovery lent the novel an “up in the air” ending. Which is natural, but I believe a few more of the story lines could have been tied up without losing its sense of tentative hope.

I really enjoyed Poppi’s character. Actually, he was probably my favorite. For Dennis, Katie’s long-time love interest and best friend, I felt sympathy for and an innate understanding. He is a driven man who has a life plan that he, at first, is unwilling to alter. I think we’ve all been in his position, and he handled it the best way he knew how.

Overall, it was an engrossing read that focused mainly on character development, which I appreciate. It’s main themes are powerful, as well—how far will you allow yourself go to escape life’s troubles? And what is more important? Dulling the senses in order to get by, or mustering a near impossible strength to overcome a weakness that may or may not have been inherited? It’s also about following in your parent’s footsteps. It’s far easier to do so than you’d think, but there is only so much you can blame a parent for. Inner strength is a puissant thing, and Katie, with the help of her new-found and all-encompassing love for her child, seems to find it in the end. 

Reviewed by M.B. Sellers

Book Information
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Publication date: 9/24/2013
Pages: 354

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