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Marie, Marie: Hold On Tight

Author: Terri Brown-Davidson
Genre: Fiction
Reviewed by Ruth Mark

11220401When her baby sister Alyssa Ellen dies in strange circumstances Marie and her Momma die too – inside themselves. Sexual abuse, the birth of Momma’s escapist imaginary world, fear and repressed memories follow. This is Marie’s story and it is a harrowing one, definitely not for the faint-hearted. Marie is the narrator throughout (we meet her aged 17), a budding artist who’s only saviors are her boyfriend Dell, her art and a run-down cabin at the edge of the woods. The novel’s title is taken from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and it fits the contents perfectly. Readers are in for a hurtling, emotional roller-coaster ride. You too are well-advised to hold on tight. As Marie says on page 152:

But the mind…is a relentless machine. It loves to move forward. Loves never to stop.

Terri Brown-Davidson has published poetry before and it shows in this her first novel. The language is at once immediate, lyrical, stark and full of poignant images. Written both in the first person and in (for the most part) the present tense with short, snappy sentences and contained in short chapters, the content here can, at times, leave you breathless. Like you need to come up for air. Even flashbacks are written in the present tense and you are sometimes left wondering when certain events happened. By the middle of the book however you’ll be reading so fast that everything will begin to fall into place.

We know for example from very early on that Marie has several dark secrets, not least the fact that her baby sister died a horrible death which has left both herself and her mother scarred. Brown-Davidson deals with these difficult, subjects (often taboo in fiction) in a realistic, straight-on way. There is no flinching from the disgust, the shame the eroticism, the confusion, the pain, the emotional minefield that is child abuse. Violence and sex, secrecy and genetic ties are all dealt with here through Marie’s eyes. It is completely believable even if, at times the dialogue doesn’t sound 100% age-appropriate, or the fact that the author doesn’t fully sketch several of the characters (Dan, Momma’s lover and chief abuser remained a cardboard cut-out, and I couldn’t quite get Momma though I think that was the point – that she wasn’t to be fully understood.)

This is powerful writing depicting raw pain which is at times hard to stomach. Because it is so visceral though, because you quickly want Marie, this damaged, intelligent girl, to survive you’ll not be able to put it down. A page-turner of the highest order. Exhausting, draining yet at the same time hope reigns, grief and pain don’t win and you’re left knowing that survival of even the worst pain is possible. A stunning first novel.


November 28, 2004 in Mainstream | Permalink


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