Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Into My Arms by Kylie Ladd (2013)

There has been a bit of buzz around Kylie Ladd's new book Into My Arms, so I was excited to pick it up from the library yesterday. I love a book where you can really sink your teeth into the ideas and characters featured and I thought this book club darling was going to be the next dinner-party must-read. Into My Arms opens strongly, when the impetuous headstrong Skye, who is dating Hamish, meets teacher Ben Cunningham at a school. Skye falls in love with Ben and leaves Hamish. However, problems arise when Skye introduces Ben to her mother Nora and her gay brother Arran, who has just broken up with Mark, who cheated on him, and Nora realises that Ben and Skye are actually brother and sister - Ben was conceived using fertilised eggs left over after Nora and her husband Charlie, who just died of dementia, used IVF to have Arran and Skye. Ben didn't know he wasn't his parents' genetic child and becomes estranged from his mother Mary, although he stays in touch with his sister Kirra.

Sound complicated? That summary sums up just about every single problem with this very average book. After its strong beginning, the story just goes nowhere. The characters lack any depth at all, do not develop over the course of the novel and there are so many different characters with a stake in this story it's overwhelming, especially since their narrative voices are exactly the same.

On top of the laundry list of characters, this book is not afraid to acknowledge multiple ideas. As well as the incest storyline, there is a dementia storyline, a gay storyline, a cheating storyline, a squatting/freegan storyline, an asylum seeker storyline, a widow storyline and, just so nothing gets left out, a religious storyline as well. On top of that there are the broader overarching themes of family, motherhood, home and belonging. Simply put, that's too many storylines! Ladd would have been much better served to strip back the unnecessary stuff and focus on the important characters and stories so we care about the people she is writing about. Instead, she makes something a big deal - like Charlie having dementia - that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the story. This is Basic Writing 101 - if it doesn't add to the story, take it out. What's even worse is that Ladd's metaphors are so laboured it's almost painful to read - for example, after finding out that Skye is his sister, Ben has explosive diarrhoea and the only thing he had to wipe his arse on is the letter from the genetics company telling him the results of the sibling test. You have seriously got to be kidding.

There are interesting ideas in this book. The consequences of IVF and sperm/egg donation are real - there are concerns about genetic siblings hooking up because they don't realise they are related. The integration of asylum seekers into Australian society and the processing of refugee visas is a big problem. It is horrible to lose a family member to dementia and it must be awful to discover that your partner is cheating on you. However, you get absolutely nothing from reading this book that you wouldn't get from reading a really detailed plot summary, so read a couple of reviews of Into My Arms that contain spoilers so you know enough about it to get by at dinner parties and spend your time reading another better book instead.

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