By Mary Helen Specht
Published in 2015 by Harper Perennial.
Reviewed by K.L. Romo.
What is family? What are family obligations? Where is home? How does love fit into the mix? These are some of the questions Mary Helen Specht explores in her novel Migratory Animals.
Specht tells the story of six former college roommates, two of whom are sisters. Five have stayed in and around Austin, Texas, but the sixth, Flannery, moved to Nigeria as part of her scientific work regarding climate change. But when funding becomes an issue, Flannery is required to move back to Austin where she is thrust back into the lives of her family and friends. The push-and-pull of different ways of life, and Flannery’s longing to live one while staying with the other, is also a central theme. What plays a part in a person’s answer to the question should I stay or should I go?
In addition to familial obligations, Specht deals with another theme in her book – the effects of debilitating illnesses – Huntington’s disease and depression. Specht reveals the fear of being handed the Huntington’s death sentence, giving us glimpses of the downward spiral caused by the disease in all its ravages. But what truly impressed me was the way Specht forces the reader to experience the hopelessness of depression, in which the character Alyce was immersed. The reader not only experiences the sadness that most people associate with the condition, but the total flat line of one’s spirit. From emptiness and weak emotions, to no emotion at all. The inability to make the body move, and the panic that sets in when someone expects something from you. It was all very, very real.
The six-pack of friends each learn to give and take in their relationships, and each finds his or her own truth to believe in. Each is also forced to ask themselves should I stay or should I go?
I enjoyed Specht’s emotion-filled style of writing. The chapters were written from the point of view of each of the six friends, rotating back and forth between the characters and their perspectives. I enjoyed this book very much, and look forward to another from Mary Helen Specht.
K.L. Romo is a writer who lives with her family in Duncanville, Texas. She is currently querying agents to represent her newly completed novel – From Grace I Fall – about an empty-nester who’s suddenly transported back to 1907 Dallas, seeing the world through her prior incarnation, a reformed prostitute who is determined to seek justice for other women forced to sell their bodies. You can visit her at www.klromo.com.