Alice Bliss: A Novel, by Laura Harrington – Book Review

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

Alice Bliss, by Laura Harrington, is the story of fifteen-year-old Alice, a daddy’s girl, and the year she and her family spend with her father, Matt, deployed in Iraq. Alice’s mother Angie questions his decision to serve his country over the family who needs him, and Matt, though probably well-meaning, puts considerable pressure on Alice to take care of the family in his absence (especially Angie), complete with directions, important papers and money should anything happen. Devastated, Alice launches a campaign to relentlessly preserve all the farming rituals she has with her father and often clashing with her mom and struggling to keep up with her school work while feeding and mothering her neglected sister.

The characters are finely drawn and fully realized and it is easy to understand why they act as they do even if you sometimes don’t “get” their behavior. Alice’s little sister Ellie is a scene stealer and easily my favorite character, whether she is deciding to read the dictionary or telling Alice that she needs to change out of her dad’s shirt. Alice’s grandmother and best friend are supporting characters, but strong and enjoyable elements of the story, integral to the movement of the plot.

One area that was problematic for me, and that might not be an issue for other readers, was the dialogue. When I see books with tons of dialogue, I immediately think “If I wanted to read that much dialogue, I would read a play”. Well, Harrington is also a playwright! So, at least the dialogue wasn’t poorly written, but there is a lot of it, and sometimes the long pages of pure conversation left me feeling detached  from the characters that I had grown to know and care about. There was a lot of talk without any accompanying action or direction, and those parts dragged a little. The heart of the writing, and what ultimately got me through was Harrington’s wonderful narrative which supported the dialogue. I would love to see her balance it more throughout the novel.

Alice Bliss is an important novel, but a sad one. It’s the kind of story that doesn’t register (and I was pretty clueless) unless you live it, or someone you know is living it- a loved one away from home, in constant danger, lonely, and the family steeping in unrelenting emotions of uncertainty, hopefulness, love, anger and resentment. Harrington’s not inconsiderable talent as a writer is brought to bear on this story, illuminating all the complexities of the characters and the way they both help and fail each other in difficult circumstances. Several moments throughout are completely heartbreaking, their poignancy outlining a family that is slowly falling apart yet having to learn to lean on each other. Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: Books and Movies – Bookworm With A View -The Undercover Reader – Mom of Brats

Alice Bliss: A Novel is available in hardcover from Amazon & Powells, and is available as an audiobook from Audible.

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Review Copy.

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15 Comments

  1. I love the cover of this and I’ve seen it all over the place. I know a lot of people for whom this would probably resonate better with than me but I’m still interested in it (admittedly, probably based mostly on the cover).

  2. I saw this yesterday at the Barnes & Noble, and I had to stand there and touch it. I didnt buy it though. I don’t mind dialogue if it isn’t blather…there have been some I’ve read in the past that have been really well-done. And the topic hits home, particular where I am now, in Indiana. There are families in this situation and it is heartbreaking to see.

  3. I have heard a lot of good things about this one. The overload of dialogue intrigues me–I honestly don’t know if it would bother me or not.

  4. You know, you bring up a good point. I had never really thought about the amount of dialogue in a book, and whether or not more dialogue makes things seem like a play, but I can see that it might. I don’t think I have read many books with heavy dialogue, so it would be interesting to see what my feelings would be if I ever came across one.

  5. I have a copy of ALICE BLISS to review as well. Interesting thoughts about the amount of dialogue. I’m thinking that it doesn’t bother me. I like to read plays though – have read all of Agatha Christie’s plays – and I don’t think I’ve ever noticed a problem.

    The storyline itself sounds heartbreaking. I think that it is hard for those of us not in the situation these military families are in to even imagine what it’s like. Reminds me a bit of the book YOU KNOW WHEN THE MEN ARE GONE that I read earlier this year. Powerful stuff. Thanks for sharing!

    1. It probably doesn’t if you haven’t noticed before now. It’s one of my quirks, like font size. I read YKWTMAG as well and they bot provide much need perspectives. Enjoy!

  6. Too much dialogue definitely gets on my nerves but I like the premise behind this story. We don’t hear enough about what happens to families when their loved ones go off to war.

    1. If I had seen this in a store I probably would have passed on it because the dialogue thing is something I don’t care for stylistically, but since it was sent for review it was a surprise and I am glad I read it. I liked it a lot in spite of reading against style. Harrington is good in that way.

  7. I love dialogues 🙂
    But from the title of the book, I would not have thought it was a sad kind of book. Great review 🙂

    1. I know. Alice Bliss implies happiness she is going through a tough time. If you love conversation, then you are in for a treat.

  8. I like reading dialogue and I have been known to slightly skim over some descriptive passages, but I also don’t love it when the book is all dialogue all the time. So I think this would bother me too about this book.

  9. I also enjoyed Ellie! She made the book for me.

    I have been struggling with what felt off for me with this one and you may have discovered it, too much dialog. I thought this book was YA, and since the story is told from a teen I realized her thoughts wouldn’t be the same as if this was written from the mother’s POV (which I would have enjoyed more, personally).

    It is a sad, important story.