The Unraveling of Abby Settel is Sylvia May's debut novel. And, as the ironic title suggests, the book is a well-thought-out study of a woman and her family in the midst of crisis. Ms May's writing is crisp and concise. The odd flourish of metaphor or simile is lovely but not overdone. Ultimately though, Ms May's strength is her sensitive and insightful handling of family dynamics.
A series of catastrophes hit Abby Settel like a hurricane: her husband loses his job, her daughter is off to university, when her son is not MIA he acts weird, and her aging parents display alarming behavior. Even her parents' cat conspires to make Abby's life difficult.
Now if this all sounds too much, you're wrong. Personally, I've found that's the way life goes. I've hit patches where I've really wondered if one of my enemies has purchased a voodoo doll and pierced every exposed area of fabric with the sharpest needle available to humankind. And so it goes with poor Abby. Confronted with gut-challenging issues she makes tough decisions.
Although I found Abby a sympathetic character, I didn't always agree with or like the decisions she made. However, what I did like about the novel was after I had finished reading it I continued to consider Abby and her family's plight. Furthermore, much to my chagrin, I couldn't think of better solutions to Abby's difficulties than she did. I love a story that leaves you pondering! And Abby definitely did that.
The book travels between Richmond,Virginia and Waterloo, Canada. With more and more Americans and Canadians criss-crossing our border for work, this detail offered an enjoyable believability factor. Speaking of believability, Ms May's characters were multi-dimensional, complex and consequently, realistic. Having said that, I would have enjoyed seeing Abby's relationships in Richmond played out a little more. On the whole, however, Ms May did a fine job of presenting the issues and characters on which she chose to focus.
My Final Word
The Unraveling of Abby Settel was a good read that left me thinking about family, distance, aging parents and ultimately, the love that crosses all those boundaries. All of the issues covered in The Unraveling of Abby Settel are controversial, with no clear solution. For this reason I would highly recommend it as a book club selection.