Saturday, December 27, 2014

REVIEW: Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall


Amid the mayhem of the Civil War, Virginia plantation wife Iris Dunleavy is put on trial and convicted of madness. It is the only reasonable explanation the court can see for her willful behavior, so she is sent away to Sanibel Asylum to be restored to a good, compliant woman. Iris knows, though, that her husband is the true criminal; she is no lunatic, only guilty of disagreeing with him on notions of justice, cruelty, and property. On this remote Florida island, cut off by swamps and seas and military blockades, Iris meets a wonderful collection of residents--some seemingly sane, some wrongly convinced they are crazy, some charmingly odd, some dangerously unstable. Which of these is Ambrose Weller, the war-haunted Confederate soldier whose memories terrorize him into wild fits that can only be calmed by the color blue, but whose gentleness and dark eyes beckon to Iris. The institution calls itself modern, but Iris is skeptical of its methods, particularly the dreaded "water treatment." She must escape, but she has found new hope and love with Ambrose. Can she take him with her? If they make it out, will the war have left anything for them to make a life from, back home? Blue Asylum is a vibrant, beautifully-imagined, absorbing story of the lines we all cross between sanity and madness. It is also the tale of a spirited woman, a wounded soldier, their impossible love, and the undeniable call of freedom.

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 10th 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2012)
ISBN 0547712073 (ISBN13: 9780547712079)

About the Author

Kathy Hepinstall was born in Odessa, Texas, and spent a large part of her childhood two hours from the Louisiana border, where most of her relatives
reside. She lives in Austin, Texas. 

Check out the author's website

My Thoughts
When Iris dreamed of that morning, the taste of blood was gone, and so was the odor of gun smoke, but her other senses stayed alive.
Iris was sent to an asylum, because a group of officials (all men) deemed her mad. What brought on this diagnosis? Surely she did something terrible! Yes, she did! She dared to defy her husband, and only a mad woman would defy her husband or show displeasure with her life.

When she arrives, she is treated by Dr. Cowell, the resident doctor at the asylum on Sanibel Island, where he lives with his wife and his son Wendell. Dr. Cowell's wife is a bit loony herself, and Dr. Cowell just keeps her medicated. His son Wendell is troubled. Actually Wendell is a normal boy, but he thinks he is crazy, because he has raging hormones and obviously no one has ever explained "puberty" to him.

I didn't care for the way Wendell was written. The character thinks like a boy, but speaks like a very mature and proper man. The two just didn’t jive.

I liked the use of metaphors in the book. For example, there was the description of a strangler fig, and the way it grows up another tree, sapping it and eventually killing it, and then the term was used a couple of times in reference to women in the book. But I noticed that no men were never referred to as strangler figs.
Tawny, bare legs showed under her dress. Her breasts and lips were full. She was asking for trouble simply by existing, by growing up. No fault of her own. A strangler fig.
And there were other inmates in the asylum that obviously belonged there. My favorite was the woman who refused to be a widow, who continued to live in an imaginary world where her husband still lived, and they still danced together.
Morning arrived as it always did for the old woman who refused to be a widow. She turned on the bed and kissed her husband on the cheek, then smoothed back his white hair. 
My final word: This was a pretty enjoyable book. I had a personal connection, since Sanibel Island is located just a short drive from my home, and I am quite familiar with it. I loved the author's use of metaphors. I loved some of the asylum's residents. I did not like the doctor or his wife. You had to feel for his son Wendell though, who is trapped on an island as an only child, with no other children to play with. The only people around with whom he may interact are mentally ill. Then he meets Iris, who he senses is not really mentally ill. I thought this was a good story, if not especially exciting, and the author moved it along well.

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