And we’re back with the book review/inspired outfit posts (or sometimes, movie review) that I had been meaning to continue back when I first started them! Today I’ll be talking about The Town that Forgot How to Breathe, by Kenneth J. Harvey. I was drawn to this book solely for its cover, which you can see is pretty striking, and when I read the synopsis it only further sparked my interest.
First, the synopsis, found on the inside of the book jacket: “Something strange is happening in the seaside town of Bareneed. Mythical creatures that formally existed only in mariners’ dreams are being pulled from the sea. Perfectly preserved corpses of villagers long ago lost at sea are being washed upon the shore. And residents of the town are suddenly suffering from a mysterious illness that is making them forget how to breathe.
Recent divorce Joseph Blackwood has returned to his hometown in hopes of reconnecting with his estranged daughter. But when the young girl begins having visions and conversing with the spirit of a neighbor’s deceased child, he knows that his daughter is suffering from a supernatural affliction. Now, with the help of some colorful village residents, Joseph must unravel this paranormal mystery to save his only child.”
So reading that synopsis, I was very intrigued. But first off, I should say that it’s slightly misleading. Joseph and his daughter do not seem to be estranged in the sense I would assume by using that word, that they are emotionally apart and hostile; rather they are have only been physically separated by his divorce. I expected them to have a rocky relationship, but Robin very much loves her father and they flow quite well together.
Second of all, through the entire book Joseph doesn’t really actually try to unravel any mystery; he doesn’t attempt to solve it, he’s merely swept up in the confusion of what is happening to himself and his daughter.
And third, the book is nearly as much about a few other residents of the town as it is about Joseph and Robin. We are introduced to quite a few very interesting characters who all have some part to play in the happenings of the town, and we learn their stories as well as Joseph’s and Robin’s. All the while, Joseph never really seems to delve into what is happening to his daughter and why she is seeing visions and talking to the dead– really, he seems to have known that it was always like this, as it is revealed in Robin’s own account that she has seen auras from the time she was a babe.
So, while the synopsis is a little off — and what synopsis isn’t, really? — the book itself really captured me from the first few chapters. The author weaves a very interesting mystery of a town that has become infested with strange happenings from the sea, dead bodies turning up that had been dead for seventy or more years, mythical animals being sighted, and two or three people who can see spirits, auras, and glimpses of the future. One in particular, Tommy Quilty, draws his visions and sometimes fears them, and has full belief in all things supernatural. It is said that when he was a baby, he was taken by the fairies and changed, returned to his home with “the sight” and made a simpleton, so that none but the truest of hearts would love him.
As I got deeper into the chapters, more and more questions arose and I was pulled further and further into the stories. There is Joseph and his daughter Robin, visiting Bareneed for a vacation; Claudia, his neighbor, a Victorian-esque tragedy of an artist, who had lost her husband and daughter many years before and slowly emerges from her glass house, a continuously enthralling mystery to Joseph; her daughter, who shows up as a dead girl waterlogged, seemingly drowned, who repeats phrases about the sea and befriends Robin; a black dog that belongs to nobody and comes and goes mysteriously; an old woman who has lived in Bareneed her entire life, whose fiance was lost at sea and who, at one time, had “the sight” but has since lost it and misses seeing the spirits come and go; Tommy Quilty, the simpleton with “the sight”, who draws his art and foretells strange comings and fears the things he draws; Rayna, the woman he keeps an eye on whose husband was lost at sea and who drinks heavily but is one of the few who truly treasures Tommy; and many, many others.
As he writes, Harvey spins a compelling mystery full of questions: what does Claudia really want with Joseph, and who is she, truly? Why are there people forgetting how to breathe? What do the spirits want, and why are the magical creatures coming forth from the sea? How were the bodies so preserved? Where did the black dog come from? Why is Tommy so intrinsically connected to the magical things that are happening?
And, mostly, I wanted to know why Claudia, in the end, appeared as a completely different person to someone else than she did to Joseph. And why in a short section about Joseph’s wife, she and her exact situation appeared in a book that the wife was reading. Was she an apparition as well? Was she a magical creature?
Sadly, by the end of the book only a few of my questions were answered, in a very vague sort of way. Tommy’s role in the whole thing is revealed by way of assumption, but the mystery of the black dog, who Claudia really was, why the spirits were creating havoc, and where the magical creatures came from were never really answered. There are some cases where keeping a few mysteries unsolved can be an excellent way to end a book, but I felt there were far too many unanswered questions when this story ended.
Throughout it all, there was not one solid answer for any of the things that happened. There were causes and effects that could be assumed, one or two situations that partially resolved issues, and an epilogue that read like a tall tale that vaguely covered what happened after the fact. But there was no real satisfying end to the tale. I finished the book with as many questions as I’d had when I started, and there were no real feelings involved- I was not happy, sad, angry, relieved, victorious… etc. My involvement in the story and feelings brought up by its characters slowly peaked somewhere in the middle of the book, and steadily grew lesser from there.
Overall, I would give the story a three out of five. Harvey’s writing voice is an interesting one, and some of his prose is quite enthralling, but in the end his adept storytelling came to a very uninteresting end, leaving me only halfheartedly wondering the answers to the mysteries he had spun.
As for the outfit, I decided not to be inspired by the book cover, because I just did a graphic black and white outfit, but by the character of Claudia, who is most described as a tragic, damaged artist seemingly from a Victorian age of repression, buttoned-up-to-the-neck, but entirely erotic in Joseph’s mind.
In full disclosure, I am not actually wearing this dress all day; I bought it for the shop, and one of my close friends claimed it before I could even list it. So I’m playing dress-up while I wait for her to take it away, but I thought it was a good match for Claudia’s constant high necks, delicate appearance, and other-era quality.
Dress, vintage | shoes, Modcloth | flower crown, self-made | belt, thrifted
Have you ever read The Town that Forgot to Breathe? If so, what did you think? Was the ending disappointing for you, satisfying, or only so-so?
Do you have any requests of what I should read next? Let me know! Happy Monday!