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Two Reviews of Dying Unfinished by Maria Espinosa

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Dying Unfinished, Maria Espinosa, Wings Press, March, 2009.

This is a powerful novel about the interactions within a dysfunctional family. The relationship between Eleanor and her daughter Rosa are at the center of the  story, but it also deeply engages the father, Aaron, and Eleanor and Aaron’s two sons, Howard and Jesse, as well.

The family lives in a suburban Long Island town, but while they seem like fairly happy and ordinary people, they’re actually afflicted by the rift between Eleanor and Aaron. Eleanor longs to be a poet, but Aaron gets all the attention as a talented sculptor.  He  eventually makes a living, but only with help from his and Eleanor’s wealthy parents.

Early in the marriage, Eleanor  begins to realize that although he loves her, Aaron is chronically unfaithful. Rather than openly confronting him, Eleanor begins to have secret love affairs of her own. The three children are deeply affected by this but most of all, the daughter, Rosa, suffers from the secrecy and the power play which spins between her parents and around herself.

Eventually Rosa, who has always felt inadequate and lost despite her own intelligence and beauty, has a breakdown and ends in a mental hospital. Much of the story is devoted to her struggles toward recovery and fulfillment, especially after she marries a Chilean journalist in Paris, where she gives birth to a daughter of her own.   Through understanding of her mother’s actions and life, Rosa recovers the strength to create a fulfilled life for herself and her child.

Maria Espinosa, who won an American Book Award for her first novel, Longing, is a passionate and talented writer. This book is told in an unusual and lyrical medley of voices,  which hold the reader’s attention from beginning to end without ever losing clarity or focus.

--Mimi Albert

Dying Unfinished

Maria Espinosa

Wings Press, March 2009

Review by Mimi Albert, 500 words.

 “We  spend so much energy  hiding from the truth,” Maria Espinosa writes in her splendid new novel, Dying Unfinished (Wings Press, 2009). Espinosa,  whose previous novels include Longing, which won an American Book  Award, Dark Plums, and Incognito, the journey of a secret Jew,  refuses to allow herself, her readers, or any of the characters in this tangled and absorbing story, to hide for long. From the first page to the last, she uncovers the hidden motives, unspoken passions, and many disappointments that too often bruise  people who have been together for a long time. The book is told in a variety of  voices, framed by different combinations of characters, in different periods of their lives, and even on different continents. It opens with Eleanor, who is portrayed both as mother and daughter, mistress and wife, traveling on the Long Island Railroad from suburban Long Island to meet her lover in a New York City bar.  But as the story continues, the author lets us glimpse Eleanor in her youth, being courted by Aaron, the man who becomes her lifelong husband as he attains prestige in the difficult world of  modern art. Theirs  is far from a simple story of adultery and retribution, because Aaron is also adulterous, and the relationship seems not only to continue but to thrive in the warmth shed by their mutual deceptions.  Children come into this marriage: two boys, Jesse and Howard, each of whom responds  differently to this world of shadowy truths and half-told lies. Howard becomes practical and  hard-working; more  artistic and volatile, Jesse encounters problems. He falls ill with polio in one of the many epidemics of the 1950s; he also rebels against the web of deceptions by making his own choices and being true to his own desires. But most volatile, and most important in this story, is the daughter, Rosa, several years older than both her brothers and  too gifted and spirited to be contained within any conventional restraints. The story of these two women’s lives and art might seem overly complex,  were it not for the clarity with which it is told. Espinosa takes  the reader right  behind the eyes of its characters; she leads  us into difficult relationships, Eleanor’s with her lovers, Rosa’s with a variety of men to whom she turns for solace as she grows up. But each episode is concisely contained, and crystal clear in the telling.  Even when Rosa finds herself in a whirlpool of self destruction which ends in the desolate ward of a mental institution, the story is vivid and well-told. By the time it ends, the reader knows that somehow, mother and daughter  will have found the resolution and peace they seek, if only in their art, Espinosa in this  novel and her mother in the bright and interesting poetry with which many of the chapters are begun.Five stars.--Mimi Albert  

Dying Unfinished

Maria Espinosa

Wings Press, March 2009

Review by Mimi Albert, 500 words.

 “We  spend so much energy  hiding from the truth,” Maria Espinosa writes in her splendid new novel, Dying Unfinished (Wings Press, 2009). Espinosa,  whose previous novels include Longing, which won an American Book  Award, Dark Plums, and Incognito, the journey of a secret Jew,  refuses to allow herself, her readers, or any of the characters in this tangled and absorbing story, to hide for long. From the first page to the last, she uncovers the hidden motives, unspoken passions, and many disappointments that too often bruise  people who have been together for a long time. The book is told in a variety of  voices, framed by different combinations of characters, in different periods of their lives, and even on different continents. It opens with Eleanor, who is portrayed both as mother and daughter, mistress and wife, traveling on the Long Island Railroad from suburban Long Island to meet her lover in a New York City bar.  But as the story continues, the author lets us glimpse Eleanor in her youth, being courted by Aaron, the man who becomes her lifelong husband as he attains prestige in the difficult world of  modern art. Theirs  is far from a simple story of adultery and retribution, because Aaron is also adulterous, and the relationship seems not only to continue but to thrive in the warmth shed by their mutual deceptions.  Children come into this marriage: two boys, Jesse and Howard, each of whom responds  differently to this world of shadowy truths and half-told lies. Howard becomes practical and  hard-working; more  artistic and volatile, Jesse encounters problems. He falls ill with polio in one of the many epidemics of the 1950s; he also rebels against the web of deceptions by making his own choices and being true to his own desires. But most volatile, and most important in this story, is the daughter, Rosa, several years older than both her brothers and  too gifted and spirited to be contained within any conventional restraints. The  intricacies of  behavior and mood between mother and daughter in might seem overly complex,  were it not for the clarity with which it is told. Espinosa takes  the reader right  behind the eyes of its characters and each scene is shaped by the vision she leads  us into difficult relationships, Eleanor’s with her lovers, Rosa’s with a variety of men to whom she turns for solace as she grows up. But each episode is concisely contained, and crystal clear in the telling.  Even when Rosa finds herself in a whirlpool of self destruction which ends in the desolate ward of a mental institution, the story is vivid and well-told. By the time it ends, the reader knows that somehow, mother and daughter  will have found the resolution and peace they seek, if only in their art, Espinosa in this  novel and her mother in the bright and interesting poetry with which many of the chapters are begun.--Mimi Albert