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THE ENUMERATIONS Maire Fisher Loot.co.za (R224) Umuzi
NOAH Groome is 17 years old and lives with his father Dominic, his mother Kate and his younger sister Maddie. All should be well with the Groome family, they live in a lovely house, Kate is a devoted mom to her children, and Dominic is a partner in a thriving accountancy practice. But, there’s a problem. Noah suffers from Obsessive Compulsion Disorder (OCD) – every part of his day is mapped and planned, he relies on the number five to keep things in order, five steps this way, five steps that way, five pebbles in his pocket to finger…
His walls are covered with schedules and timetables. Always an A-student something has tipped Noah further into the nightmare of his life with OCD, he also must keep away “the dark” to protect his family.
Things come to a head when Noah is being taunted by the school bully and his gang of admirers, and a cornered and much bullied Noah thrashes out and hurts another boy.
His parents are called in and they have to face up to the fact that Noah needs help – three months in a residential home that treats teens with problems.
Kate is heartbroken by the move, Maddie is distraught at not having her brother at home, and Dominic retreats into stepped up routines of running and gardening – keeping things in order, but unable (or apparently unwilling) to give any emotional support to his wife, daughter, or his son.
Noah doesn’t want to be at Greenfields and he begins his stay there by counting down the days until his three months are up. He is watched over by Mr Bill and has therapy with Ms Turner who is good at reading Noah.
Running alongside the story of Noah and his family is the story of another boy, Gabriel, his mom and his baby sister Harriet who have been deserted by their gambling father and husband. They have taken “refuge” with Gabriel’s mother’s father, an abusive old man who does everything he can to break down the young boy and abuses his mother.
Maire Fisher has created in both story lines a compelling and sensitive story about families with problems. There’s a couple of sidebar stories to the novel, there is Juliet the bad girl from Noah’s school who is also at Greenfields, she moves into his carefully curated spaces and her spontaneity and kindness to him break down some of his barriers. Kate and Juliet’s mother know each other socially and all is not well at Kate’s home. There are secondary characters at the home who all bolster up the novel’s main theme: how we are damaged and how we damage.
Fisher has a deft hand in writing about adolescents. She pens her characters with a sure hand that honours their pain and suffering without any condescension.
This makes The Enumerations a book that will appeal to both adults and teens. Noah’s life is not just about symptoms though, he has a project he has been working on for school, drawing up a family tree.
He’s done well on it on his mother’s side of the family drawing ready to access information from the old family Bible and hearing stories from Kate. But he has drawn a blank on his father’s side. Dominic, whose parents are dead, wants nothing to do with the project, but is haunted by his son’s frequent emails begging for any information he can follow up on.
The more Noah asks the more Dominic retreats into his own world.
Fisher may have made Noah the main character of her book, but the other characters are just as important and well realised.
Kate lives in a world of despair as her family is separated from the daily presence of Noah, she can’t understand why her husband doesn’t want to visit at family visiting time on Sundays. Maddie misses her brother horribly and can’t wait for Sundays to see him.
And on the subject of Maddie Fisher, she shows us just how perceptive her writing and her ability to read her characters is, because Maddie is damaged by having to be the “golden child”, the one who always puts on a cheerful face to oil the rusty nature of her family life.
As Noah spends more time at Greenfields, he finds that his friendship with Juliet makes him slightly more relaxed. She’s not as bad as she has been painted and Noah begins to see some light at the end of the tunnel. All the while the reader is teased by the story of Gabriel and why his life is being recaptured in the book.
He isn’t from a wealthy family and unlikely to end up at the refined Greenfields. So, why is his story in the novel at all? All part of a wonderful plot that Fisher weaves with extraordinary skill.
As Noah is forced or helped to peel back the truths that have made his inherent OCD spiral out of control and allow in the dark, Fisher peels back a story of suburban suffering and subterfuge. There is a reason that one of the moms from the school drinks so much, there is a horrendous reason why one of the teens is at Greenfields, all hidden beneath the veneer of polite society. But it’s a society where the horror breaks through into the cocktail parties on occasion and is seen not for what it is, but for something for those without visible problems to shun and gossip about.
Fisher’s book is a tragic delight (if such a thing exists), she allows both her teen and adult protagonists to find their way – sometimes with extreme difficulty – to a form of salvation if not complete healing.
The Enumerations is a fine book that grips the reader from beginning to end. Wise without being boring; sad, but with a refreshing sense of humour in places, and an unsentimental but real story about the dark that surrounds the most seemingly successful and ordinary people. This is a novel not to be missed.
A gripping read; wise without being boring; sad, but with humour