“Have you ever heard of a guy named Proust?”
So begins Keep the Ends Loose by Molly D. Campbell, who, I must disclose, is a writer I met several years ago on a creative retreat. I have followed her adventures ever since, joyfully reading her work, both because of her talent and because I am taken by the enthusiasm and cheerfulness that she seems to keep about her, no matter what life throws in her way.
That was enough for me, when she announced that her novel would be published, but when I opened up the book and began to read, I was gifted with an entirely new and unexpected world.
The story is told by 15-year-old Mandy – awkward, unsure, and keenly observant about her surroundings and the emotions of the people in them. The book reads at times like a cringeworthy teen’s journal, here all drama and hysterics, there much self-deprecation over her choice of words or worse, cliches. The narrator kicks herself, especially when she’s down.
This whole thing was going to become a broken record. I stepped up to the plate (okay, too many metaphors, I know).
It’s precious, and completely surprising. Campbell, a proud grandmother, gets the voice of a modern teen so spot on that you’d think this was a YA novel, and it is classified as such. Certainly its theme of innocence lost is one that the kids are digging these days…right? But the understated drama of subsurface family dynamics might be too subtle for them, and why Loose is a charming read for older readers who still feel like awkward teens, such as myself.
During the summer before Mandy starts high school, her otherwise unremarkable family splits open at the seams and its back story of premarital sex, adoptive and biological parents, and secrets kept for years comes gushing out. Everyone around her goes berserk, either instantly in her previously solid suburban stereotype mother’s case, dramatically in her brother’s, or slowly and unnervingly, as her father and aunt, both authority figures, crumple under the pressure. The only person left standing is Mandy herself, who struggles to support the family as a pseudo-mom, cringing as she cleans the house up after everyone else and keeps food stocked in the kitchen, and recruits her plucky best friend to join every family showdown, not unlike the imaginary animal sidekicks in Disney movies (except with much better eye shadow).
With Mandy as the moral center of this Midwestern storm, her family members eventually make a shaky peace with themselves and each other, but I was left wondering – when do they turn around and apologize to her? No 15-year-old should be left holding the bag the way she did, and when her mother Winnie comes back from her midlife-crisis girls’ trip, I expected tears and remorse, but what comes out is far less satisfying. As a mother, and someone who has been a 15-year-old girl trying to understand what’s going on, I was moved to tears reading Mandy’s title-inspiring realization:
What if this was why everybody loved movies? What if those were the only times when the loose ends got tied up right and stuff ended happily? Winnie tried to tie up her loose end and look what happened. A major debacle.
I guess that’s what is revealed to Mandy after the smoke clears – the nature of people in real life. Her childhood is coming to an end, and she’s learning the best lesson of all: how to take care of herself.
Keep the Ends Loose
$13.56 on Amazon