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Keepsake by Kristina Riggle (2012)
Keepsake (2012)
by Kristina Riggle (Twitter.)
Publication Date: June 26th, 2012
Publisher: HarperCollins; William Morrow Paperbacks
Edition Read: Paperback ARC & Digital ARC from Edeilweiss (Many thanks to HarperCollins!), Read for TLC Book Tours

Buy a copy via Amazon.
Goodreads.

The Author Behind The Book (from Kristina Riggle’s Website):
photo by John H. Riggle

Kristina Riggle lives and writes in West Michigan. Her debut novel, Real Life & Liars, was a Target “Breakout” pick and a “Great Lakes, Great Reads” selection by the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association. The Life You’ve Imagined was honored by independent booksellers as an IndieNext “Notable” book. Things We Didn’t Say was named a Midwest Connections pick of the Midwest Booksellers Association.

Kristina has published short stories in the Cimarron Review,Literary Mama, Espresso Fiction, and elsewhere, and she works as co-editor for fiction at Literary Mama. Kristina was a full-time newspaper reporter before turning her attention to creative writing. As well as writing, she enjoys reading, yoga, dabbling in (very) amateur musical theatre, and spending lots of time with her husband, two kids and dog.

From the critically acclaimed author of Real Life & Liars and Things We Didn’t Say comes a timely and provocative novel that asks: What happens when the things we own become more important than the people we love?

Trish isn’t perfect. She’s divorced and raising two kids—so of course her house isn’t pristine. But she’s got all the important things right and she’s convinced herself that she has it all under control. That is, until the day her youngest son gets hurt and Child Protective Services comes calling. It’s at that moment when Trish is forced to consider the one thing she’s always hoped wasn’t true: that she’s living out her mother’s life as a compulsive hoarder.

The last person Trish ever wanted to turn to for help is her sister, Mary—meticulous, perfect Mary, whose house is always spotless . . . and who moved away from their mother to live somewhere else, just like Trish’s oldest child has. But now, working together to get Trish’s disaster of a home into livable shape, two very different sisters are about to uncover more than just piles of junk, as years of secrets, resentments, obsessions, and pain are finally brought into the light.
-synopsis from Amazon.

My Thoughts:
Trish is not abusive, and her son, Jack, absolutely adores her. But one day, Child Protective Services are at her door threatening to take her seven-year old Jack out of her custody–not because she hit her children, but because she has too much junk in her house.
Trish is a compulsive hoarder; her walls are lined up with columns upon columns of boxes filled with stuff she doesn’t even remember. She hasn’t seen her dining table in ages, nor the paint on her walls, and her fridge is filled with rotten food. To makes matters worse, the family she has long shunned out of her life comes back to “help” her organize her junk…and her life–whether she likes it or not.

Structure:
Kristina Riggle’s Keepsake mainly alternates between two sisters, Trish and Mary’s point of view, with the odd chapters dedicated to Trish, and the evens to Mary. While Trish represents the defensive, troubled hoarder, Mary represents the condescending judgments of someone who just “doesn’t get it.” Through Mary’s eyes, I can feel her disgust, but through Trish, I can also see her intentions. By using alternating viewpoints, Riggle opened my eyes to the inside world of a compulsive hoarder, their conflicts with their family members, and themselves.

However, I admit I was confused in the beginning. When I got to the second chapter, and the novel switched to Mary’s point of view I thought I was either reading the wrong book, or I was going delusional enough to think I read a chapter of a book. I eventually got the hang of it, by primary associating the hoarding Trish with trash (hey, her name is only a letter off!)
Sometimes the story digresses into Frannie’s, Trish and Mary’s mother, point of view through her teenage diary from the sixties. Frannie is also a hoarder, and is thought to have inspired Trish to be the same. Her diary reveals the secrets that lead to her behavior. When the diary showed up about a third into the book, I was confused. All of a sudden, the story shifted from cleaning (which I admit was getting tedious to read about since it kept dragging on and on), into discovering secrets from the diary. But then the diary entries were sparse, and I practically forgot about it until it was mentioned again in the later chapters. In the end, I am not sure if Frannie’s diary played a big role in the story even after knowing its significance…since Frannie was long dead. This confusion between main characters, and the story’s focus was one of my biggest qualms about the novel.

Pace:
I admit there’s only so much I can read about cleaning a house before my eyes feel like dropping out of their sockets, the pace dragged along at the cleaning parts. However, despite the slower-than-expected pace, I always wanted to get back to the book to watch the story unravel. And it was one of those books that gets tons better, as the story progresses. I even read the back matter (Acknowledgements, Q & A, etc.) because I wanted to drain as much of the story out as possible. I liked it that much.

Characters:
From the structure, it is not surprise that the novel is character driven; they are complex, touching characters filled with inner conflicts. I love both sisters, even if they do seem like polar opposites. But both of them are in the forties, and find themselves alone with no friends, and no lovers.

Trish (Patricia):
She is so defensive, it annoys me at times. “I’m not perfect.” is one of her favorite lines, as if imperfection solved everything; it’s also how she copes with the disapproval she suffers from the people around her. She isn’t just a hoarder, but a shopaholic–I don’t even know how in the world she can shop for so much stuff without being in debt. Trish also loves to blame her cluttered house on her job, claiming that she has no time to clean after working…but if she has time to shop, I can’t imagine just how tired she is after work. Despite her defensiveness and cluttered house, I admire her for trying to clean up for the sake of her family, even if throwing away her beloved objects pains her deeply. Seriously, throwing away a broken vase is serious business for Trish, she claims she rather jump into a burning house than to throw away her precious treasures. She lives her life surrounded by unfinished projects, stuff she wanted to do…but never found the time to do. You can’t help but pity this poor woman.
SPOILER ALERT: I was actually kind of happy when her clutter broke her wrist. “FINALLY!” I thought.

Mary:
Unlike her older sister, Mary is a clean freak, although the novel gleans over Mary’s compulsive problems. Mary is literally allergic to Trish’s house, the stench, the dust makes gives her hives. Yet, despite her allergies, she tries to help Trish put her life back together. She struggles to see her sister’s point of view; the clean freak in her just wants to throw all of Mary’s stuff in the dumpster. Despite their disagreements, Mary is the one who reigns in Trish, and chases her down after her crazy run-away-from-everything antics. In many ways, Mary is the more controlled one even though she is said to be the more fragile of the two sisters. Even though she doesn’t hoard, Mary isn’t as “normal” as she appears, and faces the fear of being alone and unwanted as well. It seems like she has some social problems too, how can you not have made any friends after living for forty years?

Frannie (Frances):
Trish and Mary’s dead mother who was a hoarder. Perhaps it’s because she always seemed to be the crazy hoarder lady with cat urine all over her house that I just couldn’t like her despite knowing the reasons behind her behavior. Rather than a mother figure, she was just the “cat lady” who was just lucky enough not to have the Humane Society coming after her.

Setting:
I think this is what had me a bit disappointed. I knew Trish was a hoarder, and her house was a supposed mess. But I don’t think I’ve ever grasped how bad the house really was. Trish was described to be a shopaholic, who left unopened mail around, and had a ton of boxes, but that seemed like the extent of her messed up house (ok, there was the rotten food thing…but that was hidden away in the fridge.) Did she just have boxes, loose papers, and shopping bags around her house? And then she had that room lined up with boxes so tall that concealed the walls…but that just sounds like a warehouse instead of a “mess”. She must be pretty organized to put stuff in boxes in the first place. I wish I had a clearer sense of how horrible her house was because I am starting to suspect my definition of a “mess” is very different from society.

Personally, I think I fall between Trish and Mary. My room is not the cleanest place, and my closet often looks like a tornado went through it. I absolutely detest laundry, though I don’t have much of a choice when I run out of underwear. But I also get nitpicky about hair in bathrooms, which is one of the reasons I dislike public showers at the public pool; just the thought makes me shudder. While Trish opts to store stuff, I just want to dump it. Rather than “clean” a room, which takes thought in organizing, I rather throw stuff away so I don’t have to think about it. I am not sure who’s lazier, me or Trish.

Romance:
Keepsake isn’t a romance heavy book. Or even a romance light book since the traces of romance were negligible, as if it was sprinkled like confetti lightly throughout the novel. Most of the characters are divorced, or not old enough to get married. While there are traces of romance, it is never solidified. Nobody is jumping into anyone’s arms, or kissing anyone until they see stars, but there are all these subtle hints that are just so swoon-worthy. At one point, I put down the book just so I could do a silent girly squeal, which often even a romance novel can get me to do.

Ending:
I am content with the ending, but it left a few loose ends that are just screaming for a sequel. I absolutely loved how Mary’s last chapter wrapped out, it gave me fuzzies warmer than a yellow ducky blanket.

This was my first Kristina Riggle novel, and I delved into the novel not knowing what to expect, but I was left pleasantly surprised. I wanted to read the novel because hoarding intrigued me. I watched a few of those hoarding shows on cable television which always left we a bit bewildered that someone who rather spend a thousand dollars renting out storage units to store stuff they probably forgot about anyway. I am convinced my dad is borderline hoarder because is reluctant to throw away stuff. I purposely played one of those hoarder shows when he was in the living room…I don’t think he got the hint. Nonetheless, Riggle touched me with her characters, and the subtle humor made me burst out laughing…even if I did feel kind of bad for laughing at someone’s problems. I am definitely looking forward to reading what else Kristina has to offer!

Rating: B++

Thoughts to Consider:
Keepsake would make a great book club read; even after the last page was turned, I just kept thinking about it.
I thought about what made hoarding so bad after all. Would it be socially acceptable if instead of turning to hoarding as a coping mechanism, Trish turned into a clean freak like Mary? Is it only “wrong” because clutter can come tumbling down to kill you at any moment and the dust is unhealthy? If Trish was a clean freak, then Children’s Protective Service probably won’t come knocking (unless the cleaning fumes got too strong?) and she wouldn’t be seen as the weirdo? And having a compulsive cleaning disorder would be much easier to hide than a houseful of clutter. Should we have demeaning shows on TV about hoarding anyway? Where is the line between being a collector and being a hoarder? If the person feels comfortable in a landfill, why not let them be? Is it because Jack shouldn’t be forced to live in the middle of clutter? But even he seems to be comforted by clutter sometimes…

Spoilery Thoughts About The Book I Need To Get Out of My System, and You Probably Shouldn’t Read If You Haven’t Read the Book:
It is apparent that Frannie gave Trish her teenage diary on purpose, but what did she hope Trish would do with it? Not turn into a hoarder, to save her, or to find her lost sister?
Why is Jack always reading The Magic Tree House? Is there a relation between the names in Keepsake with the names in The Magic Tree House series (Jack and Mary, the siblings with Jack and Mary, the aunt and nephew)?

 Want more of Kristina Riggle’s Keepsake? Don’t forget to check out the rest of the TLC tour stops:

Tuesday, June 26th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, June 27th: a novel toybox
Thursday, June 28th: Sarah Reads Too Much
Friday, June 29th: Luxury Reading
Monday, July 2nd: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, July 3rd: Me and Books
Wednesday, July 4th: Life is Short. Read Fast.
Thursday, July 5th: A Cozy Reader’s Corner
Tuesday, July 10th: Life In Review
Wednesday, July 11th: Proud Book Nerd
Thursday, July 12th: Peeking Between the Pages
Friday, July 13th: The House of the Seven Tails
Monday, July 16th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Mark your calendars! Kristina will also be having a discussion of Keepsake on Book Club Girl on Air on Wednesday, July 25 at 7 pm ET!

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