Unraveling Oliver
Liz Nugent
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Unraveling Oliver
Liz Nugent
Gallery/Scout Press
272 pages
August 2017
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Unraveling Oliver.

Unraveling Oliver is a harrowing tale of one manís determination to create the life he deserves. The story begins in Ireland with a shocking act of violence. The following chapters are narrated by characters who have borne witness to Oliver Ryanís efforts, guileless victims left in his wake, discarded friends and, God forbid, anyone who attempts to love him. The charming, mysterious Oliver is an enigma, a successful author of childrenís books married to Alice, who illustrates his books.

Alice bears the brunt of Ryanís wrath, a loving and accommodating wife who finds the courage to breach Oliverís faÁade, the tolerant mien he shows to the world. Oliver is further unmasked by the voices of those who have known him, a mismatched patchwork quilt from boyhood to maturity as remembered by acquaintances, college pals, a discarded lover or two, the owner of a French vineyard who hired Irish students to work her vineyards one fated summer, even a boy who might have been his half-brother.

Raised by priests and rejected by his father, Oliver has a talent for blending in. A popular fellow who never speaks about his family, Oliver curates his own life, with busy, distant parents, his secrets securely locked away, never to be shared--not even with Alice. Indeed, he has achieved a nearly perfect life: a writer of wildly popular childrenís stories, a wife who beautifully illustrates his work and respects his need for privacy when writing, and the occasional speaking engagement at literary events, a darkly handsome, enigmatic man.

Oliver speaks his truth in alternating chapters, unashamed, even proud of his clever machinations, willing to accept guilt if necessary but more adept at rationalization, framing his actions in less heinous terms. It is the reader Oliver has chosen for his audience, the storehouse of his childhood humiliations, the burden of his fatherís rejection, the seduction of the good life, his insatiable hunger to belong, the temptation to break character finally irresistible. Basking in self-delusion, Ryan is stripped bare by those who have known him and sensed the dark underpinnings of his nature and survived. All but Alice, of course, who now has no words. The plot is ingenious, the characters deftly drawn as are the peculiarities of a country long bound to Roman Catholic mores, the rituals of faith, the hypocrisy that binds the soul in shame, the repository of secret sin.

Ranging from a decade haunted by a world war to the present, Nugent explores Oliverís collision with reality and those he meets along the way, their goodness in sharp contrast to the Oliver they befriend. Nugentís prose is compelling, her characters--even the most flawed--beautifully rendered. Unraveling Oliver was an unexpected treat I could not put down. I cannot wait for her next title, Lying in Wait (2018).

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2017

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