In Elisabeth Brinkís Save Your Own, readers meet a wide range of characters, most of them female.
First, itís Gillian, the novelís main character. Gillian Cormier Brandenburg is a narcoleptic graduate student at Harvard Divinity School; she is attempting work on her PhD thesis, a complicated study of the phenomenon of secular conversion. After several false starts and a lost fellowship, she finds herself at Responsibility House.
This new place is a halfway house for women in recovery, and this is where readers see Gillian begin to grow, although that growth comes slowly. Her explanation for working at Responsibility House is that sheíll interview the women about their spiritual lives and determine whether they have had an experience that leads them from non-belief to absolute belief in God and a higher power.
First, before the growth, come her charges at Responsibility House: Janet, who loves motorcycles and pushes the limits from the moment she arrives; Florine, a former prostitute who lost her child and knows that Responsibility House is the only way to get her daughter back. Thereís Stacy, a self-righteous and manipulative resident who is constantly scheming, and Maria, a woman who cooks and cleans obsessively and barely speaks to anyone.
In her first evenings at Responsibility House, Gillian struggles with the authority that comes with her position as evening house monitor; she is a woman who deals with anxiety issues and narcolepsy and struggles to assert herself. Her boss at Responsibility House, Gretchen, is more concerned with her social life and new boyfriend than with taking care of the issues that Gillian finds in the house. She tells Gillian to take care of things, and it seems that Gillian isnít comfortable with that level of authority. Throughout the novel, she questions her role in situations where confrontation is almost necessary and lets her social anxiety control her.
Gillian allows herself to be swept into the complicated lives of the residents of Responsibility House instead of focusing on her dissertation and struggles to bring something acceptable to the board that controls the Zephyr Fellowship.
As a reader, I connected with Gillian in terms of some of her social anxiety, but the book is almost hard to read as Gillianís struggles seem forced.
The ending comes too soon in this somewhat odd novel, almost as if Brink set a page limit and suddenly realized that she was running out of pages to wind up the novel. Any indication of the transformation Iíd hoped to see in Gillian didnít seem to come until I was almost finished reading the novel, as she tells her parents, whom she calls by their first names, Joan and Bertram, that she was not happy at school and wouldnít have returned following her dismissal from her program. She finally stands up to her parents, who have an idea of what their daughterís life should be like and who will not let go of that notion.
The epilogue brings the reader up to the present with Gillian, and finally we learn how time at Responsibility House has affected the novelís heroine. She doesnít find true love in the traditional sense, but I wonít ruin the story for anyone.