Review

Salvage

by Jane F. Kotapish

"I
have always watched myself watching myself. And so I know that what
I am doing is flirting with the possibility of going mad….
And I see that what I am doing is sad and pathetic and symptomatic
of a pathological loneliness. And I also see that I am fine. I am
as close to happy as I have ever been." This short passage, from
the point of view of the unnamed narrator of Jane Kotapish's
SALVAGE, illustrates perfectly the contradictions and tensions that
are at the heart of this challenging but thought-provoking debut
novel.

On the surface of things, the narrator, a woman in her late 30s,
has achieved a comfortable, even enviable, life. Living for many
years in Manhattan, where she explored and embraced the city with
enthusiasm even as she achieved considerable career success, she
would seem to be a well-adjusted, successful person.

Now, though, as she returns to rural Virginia in the wake of
witnessing a grim tragedy, the protagonist reveals, by narrating
her life from the time of her childhood, that she has always been
"flirting with the possibility of going mad." Raised by her
fiercely independent, somewhat prickly single mother, Lois, the
narrator longed for affection as a child. Instead, she conjured up
the ghost of her younger sister, lost during a miscarriage, a
specter of anger and hostility who haunted the narrator throughout
her childhood and adolescence, threatening to do harm to herself
and her surroundings.

Now, though, as the narrator drifts around her overly large,
ramshackle Victorian house and garden in the wake of her New York
tragedy, she questions not only her current and past sanity but
also her mother's state of mind. Lois, who lives nearby, has
claimed to be in the company of saints, from a veterinarian who
bears a great resemblance to St. Francis to a cardio funk classmate
who may just be the disciple Jesus loved. Perplexed by this turn of
behavior in her mother (a woman who re-christened an inherited
statue of the Virgin Mary after Artemis, the Greek goddess of the
hunt) and facing the loss of her childhood home, the narrator must
confront demons past and present before she can salvage her own
sanity --- and her life.

Kotapish's first novel is evocative and fluid, much like the
narrator's consciousness. Moving freely between past and present,
the narrative invites readers to make connections between the
narrator's childhood experiences and her current state of mind. The
book is also an extended exploration of the ongoing repercussions
of the mother-daughter relationship in women's lives, even far
beyond childhood. With a near stream-of-consciousness feel and a
deliberately ambiguous (albeit hopeful) conclusion, SALVAGE may not
be for every reader; for those willing to enter into the narrator's
convoluted consciousness, however, it may just be a
revelation.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 23, 2011

Salvage
by Jane F. Kotapish

  • Publication Date: March 17, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 307 pages
  • Publisher: MacAdam/Cage
  • ISBN-10: 1596922834
  • ISBN-13: 9781596922839