The short: 3.5/5 ✦. A well-written, if utterly baffling, book that ends up being more than what it seems.
I’ll be honest: this book confused me.
Now, I consider myself to be a relatively intelligent specimen, and even admitting that sometimes I fall for red herrings or have jokes fly over my head, I still found the ending (and thus, the book’s entirety) to be rather vague and obtuse.
It’s not as straightforward as the synopsis makes it seem, which turns out to be both a good thing and a bad thing.
~*~ SPOILERS ~*~
I did like that it wasn’t just a weird curse or something on the family. I kept waiting for some story about a witch or evil leprechaun or something to come into play, but no, despite being under the genre of magical realism, The Accident Season is firmly – and tragically – grounded in reality.
This book is about abuse – physical, mental, and emotional abuse. I get that. This family kept so many secrets from each other in an effort to protect one another, but of course, that ended up hurting everyone worse. IF I got this straight, Alice was sexually abused by her stepfather, who seemed to be a kind man but was actually a monster. Cara witnessed this but was threatened by the stepfather to keep quiet. He even almost drowned her. Their mother didn’t know about this, but she got suspicious and sent the stepfather away with a restraining order (which honestly is a bit of rare piece of pro-action in books like this, especially for a “kooky mom,” and I’m glad of it). His son, Sam, remained part of the family and now hates his dad, even though he doesn’t know the full extent of how terrible his dad is. Alice is forever changed by the experience and as a teenager, seeks out dangerous men who also hurt her. Now, this is where it gets complex in terms of reality, because this is a very real psychological issue. I am fortunate in that I don’t have the experience to fully discuss this, but it is very sad and tragic that a traumatic event like rape or molestation can result in the victim punishing themselves. And so you see, this book isn’t exactly what it seems to be. Cara, also traumatized, suppresses these memories, as well as avoiding the truth in whatever she does. She loves Sam, but he’s technically their brother, so she hides her infatuation. She knows something is going on with Alice and her boyfriend, but she doesn’t press the issue. She knows her friend Bea isn’t the pinnacle of perfection she wants her to be, but she pretends to not notice. Sam is actually the most “normal” of the four, despite his perhaps perverse love for Cara (I don’t quite like that they get together, and the romance really does nothing for the book’s plot, but whatever). Though Bea isn’t directly part of the family, she is just as lost and confused as the other three, and so her arc is just as important. (I did like that she and Alice got together.)
So where does the titular “accident season” come into play?
Well, maybe you can tell me? XD Seriously, this is the part I didn’t quite get. Basically, there is no such thing as an accident season – kinda. I think it started with the mother losing her first baby in the month of October, and then used that pain and grief as an excuse to hurt herself or to explain why bad things would happen during that month, because later, her first husband dies, then his brother, and then she has to send the stepfather away. It’s just a series of bad luck, and it became a thing. Again, it’s not really explained in full; I’m sure you’re probably supposed to come to your own conclusions, but speaking personally, I’d really rather have just a straight answer. (I think I’m too used to Agatha Christie and having a Miss Marple type make a denouement at the end.) On the surface, it makes sense: Alice uses the accident season to self-harm, their mother to express her grief, and I think Sam and Cara are just klutzy, but there are genuine accidents that occur, and it’s indirectly because of Elsie, the lost baby. Or something.
This is the “magical” part: Cara notices that an old friend at school is missing, and she spends much of the story trying to track her down. Doing so leads her to the creepy house they use for a wild Halloween party, where most of the family’s secrets finally come to the forefront to be dealt with (at the end of the book). If Elsie is actually real – and she seems to be?? other people besides Cara and her family remember her, so . . . ? – then she is a sort of ghost, whom the mother asked to protect her children over the years, but for some reason, Elsie doesn’t stick around during October, so most of the bad things happen during that month. And then Cara has dreams and visions of changelings that look like her and Alice and Bea and Sam and her evil stepfather, and they fight but it’s not real and then there’s mysterious dolls like look like Elsie and a tree full of dreamcatchers and – well, it all just doesn’t make sense. I concede that perhaps I’m missing the point.
~*~ SPOILERS END ~*~
Ultimately, it is a good book. It’s very well-written; the prose is very floaty and lyrical and yet properly descriptive. I read the whole thing in a couple hours. It’s also quite suspenseful, and when it got to the end, I was quite shivery with anticipation. But for a rather short book, there’s a lot crammed in, and I think it’s fair to say that not everything works.
I heartily welcome any discussion about this book! Were you as confused as I was? Maybe you can explain what I didn’t get?
Header image: The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, published August 18th 2015 by Kathy Dawson Books.