If characters were perfect, there wouldn’t be much material for a book. On the other hand, one can’t make them too obnoxious, or readers wouldn’t want to hang out with them for the length of the story. In Ninepins, Rosy Thornton had me right at the brink of “too irritating” with her primary protagonist, Laura.
Laura, a divorced mom with primary custody of her daughter Beth, who has just turned twelve, has never heard of the notion that mothers may, in fact, discipline their daughters. Beth is going through rough times – not only because she wants so much to be “normal” and fit in, but because she is hanging out in school with a very bad group of girls who have somehow convinced her they are desirably cool. Beth starts getting into a great deal of trouble, including smoking although she has asthma, skipping choir practice and letting down the whole group, shoplifting, yelling at her mother and other adults to “shut up!” and at one point, even shouting at her mother that she was “a miserable, controlling old cow.” No matter: Laura doesn’t say a word, nor does she deny Beth anything she wants. There is no docking of allowance, no abrogation of privileges, not even a lecture. It drove me crazy!
Still, I liked Laura (aside from her methods of parenting), and wanted to see how it would all come out (and, especially, if she would acquire some backbone).
Overly kind-hearted in addition to being a pushover, Laura rents out a room at her homestead (called “Ninepins”) to a troubled 17-year-old, Willow, who had been suspected of arson, and whose mentally-ill mother, Marianne, has been deemed unable to care for her. Laura also becomes friends with Willow’s social worker, Vince.
As all of them get to know one another, even Willow notices how reluctant Laura is to “parent” Beth:
“She [Laura] was always the one to appease and ingratiate; Willow has seen it over and over. It was pathetic, really, creeping around her kid, trying to please her all the time, as if Beth were the mother and Laura the child.”
And although Willow eventually gets close to Beth, she looks down on her outrageous provocations of Laura:
“Whining, crying – as if she had anything to complain about. Princess Beth with her perfect life, who had everything and took it all for granted; stupid, thoughtless Beth who had it all but was determined to wreck it, to chuck it all away. She would ruin everything, and not only for herself.”
The five main characters – Laura, Beth, Willow, Vince, and Willow’s mother Marianne – do a long slow minuet from being strangers or estranged to learning about each others’ pasts and starting to think in terms of each others’ futures. But with two troubled teens, one psychotic mother, one inadequate mother, and one lonely social worker, the road is difficult and even dangerous.
Evaluation: Rosy Thornton is a skillful portrayer of family dynamics, but her stories move along at a languid pace. This characteristic is something many readers appreciate. I, being both a Type A personality and a Type A reader, am more inclined not to be the best audience for this type of writing. But I don’t mean at all to disparage the book. It’s a good character study and a good exploration of the pressures of parenting. It’s just not necessarily a good fit for my own predilections as a reader.
Published by Sandstone Press, 2012