Set primarily in the early 1970s, All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg centers around Carole, a loving mother of three, a wife helping run her husband's car repair garage and the oldest daughter of a woman who has spent the last three-and-a-half decades locked in a mental institution. When Carole begins hearing voices, the fear that she is following in her mother's footsteps is more than she can stand. Having seen first hand what happens to people who lose their grip on reality, Carole's only option is to pretend it isn't happening to her and to hide it as best she can. Carole's young daughter, Alison, sees that something is wrong with her mother, but she can't understand what is happening. Though she wants to help and tries talking to her father and her aunt about it, Alison feels helpless.
This book is an interesting exploration of family dynamics, the barriers that often exist between rich and poor, especially in the years following the Great Depression, and the realities of mental illness in a time when so little was understood about it. Told in the three perspectives of Carole, her mother Solange, and Alison, we also see three different time periods. We meet Solange when she is young and are allowed to watch as events lead up to her commitment to the nearby mental hospital. We see Carole as a young child forced to deal with the loss of her mother in a situation that she can't understand and of which no one will speak, let alone explain. And we see Alison leaving childhood, becoming a young woman and not having the motherly support she needs. Written in such a beautiful way, I was touched by not just the words Yoerg used, but their rhythm. For instance, this section when Carole is hearing voices:
Voices pursued her. She couldn't make out the words and was almost inside the side that was in not the side that was out inside out like a sock pulled off in a hurry. Keep your insides in. Keep your outsides out. Sounded simple simple Simon Simon says touch your nose touch your head. Touched head. Dead.
The first section I encountered like this briefly confused me, but it took only a moment for me to find the pace and to understand that the author was bringing the reader into Carole's madness, sharing her thoughts with us. That is what I enjoyed about this book. There were a few characters that seemed almost unnecessary to the story, characters that might make sense if they had more development. There were a few tangents I wish she had explored more deeply, but overall I really liked this book. This isn't a light, easy read (it does focus on mental illness, after all), but neither is it too heavy. Interesting and beautifully written, this is a book I think you would enjoy.