- Author: Janyre Tromp
- Publisher: Kregel Publications
- Available Now
- Synopsis: Sam’s joyful return from the war is overshadowed by concern for his family’s safety. Annie, Sam’s wife, has her own concerns– about Sam’s sanity. Tromp’s tackles the challenging topic of PTSD in her beautiful debut novel.
- Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the novel from the publisher, via Audra Jennings’ publicity tours. Opinions expressed are my own.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.2 Cor. 4:7
Tromp begins the novel with a different verse, 2 Cor. 11:14, “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” This verse does point to a central theme in the novel, but it’s not the verse I’ll be focusing on for the purposes of this review.
I chose the verse from 2 Cor. 4 because this was a powerful truth woven throughout the narrative: God uses broken things to accomplish His perfect plans.
The message was artfully integrated into the text, with several well-placed passages pointing to this truth. Each of these passages shone like a gem in a book that deals with so much hardship.
Sometimes God uses the most broken things to save us.Janyre Tromp, Shadows in the Mind’s Eye
Sam’s mother, Dovie May, tends to be the key voice of wisdom and spiritual truth. I really liked that the author chose to present truth through Dovie May, because our cultural has strayed so far away from the biblical recognition that older people should be respected for their wisdom. Moreover, in Jewish culture, the mother is responsible for imparting truths to her children, at home.
Tromp’s writing is excellent and she has such a talent for writing distinctive voices. I was immediately drawn in by the quality of the writing. However, as I progressed through the first part of the book, I found myself slogging through, because of the harshness of the narrative. It was really hard to read about a man coming home from war, to face such a depressing reunion with his family. I wondered if the book would become more hopeful as it progressed, or stay in that place.
The book did become more hopeful, conveying a message of truth and beauty in the midst of hardships. Of course, it was by no means a “feel good” story. If you’re looking for light reading, this isn’t the best option, but if you want a thoughtful read, there is much to commend in this book.
What I Liked
- As mentioned above, the writing is excellent: rich and full of depth. Tromp’s style and voice are transporting– an important quality in historical fiction. The characters and plot feel very realistic, all the more so in light of the Author’s Note at the end of the book. This is, however, a history that is infrequently explored. I particularly appreciated the specificity of Tromp’s angle, in her decision to consider the question of how married couples dealt with the challenges arising from PTSD.
- I also feel that Tromp does justice to her subject matter. While some novels lightly graze harsh material, Tromp gets down in the trenches of hardship, which is also what made the book difficult to read, at points. But, it’s a book worth reading.
- The suspense is very well done. An early reviewer referenced Alfred Hitchcock, and I can see why. During so much of the book, it’s unclear what is going on. It felt a bit like reaching around in the dark, trying to understand what events were presently occurring, while at the same time gradually learning about the events leading up to those in the book. Rather than handing out information, Tromp slowly but surely teases out the storyline. And the reveals are worth the wait.
- Along a similar line, Tromp crafts and develops nuanced characters and situations. Because the book is riddled with uncertainty, it is very unclear (to the readers and those participating in the story) who can and cannot be trusted. Indeed, with the possible exception of little Rosie, a toddler, none of the characters are “black and white.” Instead, we have the opportunity to encounter the best and worst of the characters.
- There are a number of uses of the Lord’s name outside of prayer.
- The novel uses a pejorative term, characteristic of the time period, to describe Japanese people. This term is used several times.
- The plot revolves around a married couple, and because marriage is at the center of the plot, some of the content reflects marital intimacy. For example, the wife begins undressing her husband. This is a “romantic” scene, but it also ends up focusing on her noticing his scars from the war. This is the most graphic scene, to my recollection, and ends with the assumption, but not details– of intimacy. I also recall other, less drawn out, references and romantic moments.
- To summarize, I would say that the novel is not self-conscious about the intimacy of marriage and doesn’t seek to avoid this topic. At the same time, it’s not a romance novel, so the book wasn’t overflowing with this kind of content.
- There are multiple references to abuse and suicide, with some allusions to sexual assault.
I consider this a high-quality novel, one I could definitely see being used for book clubs and literature discussions.
This is a book I would recommend, but not lightly. I feel that the redemptive quality of the novel rings true. We don’t see a 180 turn from the depressing beginning to the ending, but we see glimmers of light, which is a realistic portrayal of the darker parts of life. Even in the hardship, there is hope. Even with broken people, God’s light shines through.