THE QUELLING

Bar­bara Bar­row, Lan­tern­fish Press (SEPTEM­BER) Soft­cover $18 (314pp), 978-1-941360-18-7

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight | Debut Fiction - LINDA THORLAKSON

The rush of a who­dunit pales next to Bar­bara Bar­row’s what’ve-they-done-and-why, The Quelling. The novel in­stantly achieves page-turner sta­tus through vex­ing ques­tions. Why are two young­sters be­ing raised by tele­vi­sion na­ture pro­grams in­stead of their own par­ents? Whose body was dis­cov­ered in their house? What prompted such vi­o­lent be­hav­ior at such a ten­der age that Do­rian and Ad­die are con­fined to a psy­chi­atric ward from their child­hood, through pu­berty, and be­yond? And, fi­nally: Are the ward’s “quelling” ses­sions in­tended to cure the girls or to ex­tract mem­o­ries about the mur­der for some more sin­is­ter rea­son?

As the sis­ters, their doc­tor, and nurses take turns flesh­ing out the story, these lures are swiftly su­per­seded by more im­me­di­ate, equally en­gag­ing ones. Char­ac­ters’ in­sight­ful, vivid ren­der­ings of cir­cum­stances and events con­trib­ute to a col­lec­tive nar­ra­tive greater than the sum of its parts. Layer upon layer of in­ter­twin­ing per­cep­tions and mys­ter­ies mount un­til enig­mas spe­cific to this story give way to those more univer­sal and philo­soph­i­cal in na­ture.

When con­ver­sa­tions, be­hav­iors, or events are re­counted from dif­fer­ing van­tage points, con­sis­ten­cies abound. Yet the new in­for­ma­tion in­evitably boosts sus­pense by negat­ing what might have been an­tic­i­pated based upon pre­vi­ous ver­sions.

The cure known as the quelling pre­sumes that symp­toms of a disor­der must be quelled for the sake of or­der. How­ever, through al­low­ing its char­ac­ters and se­crets to re­veal them­selves in what­ever or­der, to what­ever ex­tent, and through what­ever point of view best tells their story, Bar­row’s book in­vites in­quiry into which of the two—disor­der or or­der—is more de­serv­ing of rev­er­ence than cure.

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