From the very first paragraph, Frank MacBride’s disquiet about his family and their safety is clear. Awaking from a bad dream, the comfort and reassurance of his wife is not enough: he has to see his children are comfortable in their own beds; not suffering.
Frank’s marriage to Sofia isn’t perfect. In fact, while they’re generally happy, sometimes eruptions seem to lie just below the surface, and slowly they rise through the shallows. The couple are in counselling, their revealing sessions laid bare in the text, and their children present unique challenges. Young Sam doesn’t speak, and, aside from a possible link between his silence and his autism, no one is quite sure why.
While his tale is loaded with meaning, author Datta Groover’s characters are flawed, and as a result, largely feel very real. They make mistakes, disregard each other’s feelings and become frustrated and emotionally volatile when things aren’t going their way. Their family journey is not just ‘different’ but difficult: everyday in some senses, but with some odd subplots pushing it along. The message, as is typical of the genre, is a little zen in its delivery: DIFFERENT is surprisingly fast paced and easy reading, written in straightforward but evocative prose, and does a good job of delivering its more profound lessons – we won’t spoil them here – through forcing a little self examination in the reader. There are plenty of positive intentions not quite working out; plenty of slightly crossed-wires, the kind of slight miscommunications that might grate in a long-term relationship. Dramas bring those connections to a head.
The family at the heart of the story are recognizable enough to be easy to relate to, but odd and colorful enough in their quirks to be memorable and punchy in the messages carried in their individual, sometimes almost subliminal plotlines. Their message is delivered in part through Sofia’s Journal, Frank’s first-person narrative and the strange world near-silent Sam seems to occupy.
For all its strengths, there are some oddly weak moments DIFFERENT, too. In particular, the narrative between husband and wife is often used as a device to catch the reader up, and it can involve conversations that seem quite stilted and unrealistically unfamiliar for what’s otherwise portrayed as quite a close marriage. It’s noticeable, but only a minor flaw, and serves its purpose.
The tale takes off when Frank’s mother dies in mysterious circumstances, and Sam, with no way of knowing, suddenly becomes inconsolable in his grief. Then, a dark figure glanced after a routine change at Frank’s work start to unravel his past. The odd, almost supernatural connections flow through Groover’s text, but it’s the base of familial reality that makes DIFFERENT a book worth not just exploring, but really considering, too.
A family-themed novel with some dark tinges rippling just below the surface, DIFFERENT explores perspectives, personal bias and understanding, and dabbles lightly in the philosophical concept of an examined life. It’s simply-penned yet subtle, clever in its challenges and angles, and lightly provocative. A sharp, intelligent read.
~James Hendicott for IndieReader