Emily Rae Robles

the paradoxymoron

A Subtle Thing, by Alicia Hendley

The human mind is a complex mechanism, sometimes strong, sometimes weak, sometimes clear, sometimes jumbled, always contradictory.  Alicia Hendley captures the essence of humanity, in all its glorious faultiness, through her investigations into the life of one woman in her debut novel A Subtle Thing.  The existence of beauty in the midst of a life of ugly details is shown over and over again throughout the account of Beth’s psychological and emotional struggles.  Each minute conflict draws readers in and gives them a better understanding of the inherent value of each individual human life.

The story unfolds at the pace of Beth’s thought process, painting a portrait of the grimness of a life overcome by depression.  By writing exclusively from Beth’s perspective, Hendley overwhelms readers with the same thoughts—or lack of thoughts—that overwhelm Beth.  The entire novel is intensely focused on each and every thing that goes through Beth’s mind, allowing readers to see the complexities and (as the title suggests) subtleties that exist in a depressive state.  It also allows them to see the beauty that sprouts up even in the most hopeless of situations, especially in the area of relationships.

A Subtle Thing delves into the most basic aspects of humanity: relationship and identity.  Beth struggles to maintain both of these things while fearing their loss.  Her relationships with her family and friends seem painstakingly real to readers, because they are based in the fears, loves, and hurts that exist in every relationship. The entire novel explores the lines between wanting to hide from the world and yet still needing people as a support system, a trait typical in those experiencing depression.  Many of Beth’s relationships throughout the book are broken, causing her to doubt both those around her and herself.  As she suddenly finds herself in a new and different kind of relationship, she is forced to confront her past and take control of her future.  Little by little, almost so subtly that it is not quite visible, Beth matures through the challenges of depression until she (and the reader) once again remembers what happiness is like.  Even without happiness, however, she is able to find beauty in her interactions and relationships with other beautiful individuals.

Hendley’s ability to craft a character with such care, detail, and attention to the aspects of depression that affect a life results from her professional background in clinical psychology.  As a psychologist, Hendley has interacted with many people like Beth, who all struggle with different issues but the same subtleties.  Throughout A Subtle Thing, readers are able not only to identify with Beth as a character but also to reflect upon their own humanity as a result.  Beth is a heart-wrenchingly human character, whose flaws lie in her strengths and whose strengths lie in her flaws.  She reminds readers that being human means being imperfect, yet there is still great beauty in imperfection, as there is great beauty in this book.  Although Beth perceives herself as weak, the reader perceives her as a strong woman who has endured psychologically and emotional turmoil beyond what many are faced with.  As a psychologist, Hendley does a fantastic job of walking the lines between weakness and strength.

As someone who has struggled with depression, I found this book especially powerful.  Hendley’s descriptions of the slow passing of time, the feeling of helplessness, and the overwhelming insecurities all rang a very strong bell in my mind.  However, despite going into such depth about depression, the book itself is actually quite uplifting.  While reading it (at a point in my life where I still struggled daily with depression) I was encouraged by the hints of individual beauty throughout.  Although living my life during that time was one of the hardest things I had ever faced, A Subtle Thing reminded me that each individual life is precious.

A Subtle Thing should be read by anyone struggling with depression, anyone who knows someone struggling with depression, or anyone who is seeking to remind themselves of humanity’s inherent value.  If that doesn’t cover everyone, all I can say is this: Read it.  You will learn about yourself and others and be deeply moved by the time you put it down.  Kudos to Alicia Hendley for communicating truths about human nature so well.

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March 30, 2011 - Posted by | book review, briefcase of books

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