Today’s #bookreview takes me away from my typical read of #romance, sweet or otherwise. Saving Jason by Kate Anslinger could be classified as literary, women’s, or war fiction. But whatever meaningless category you put it into, above all it is that rarest of treasures a book that delves so deeply into human nature and life that merely reading it changes you.
Saving Jason is not so much about a US Marine scarred by war and struggling to keep afloat against the tide of PTSD. It is the story of the women who love him. The ex-wife who has moved on with her life to find happiness with another man but remains caught in a web of failure because she could never truly save the man who is now more friend and brother. The girlfriend consumed with insecurity and jealousy who can only tread water in the depths of her soulmate’s depression and PTSD. When a tragic ‘accident’ brings these two women together, they must learn to put all that aside for Jason, one another, and the future.
Having been that ex-wife, I can empathize with exactly how challenging that task can be. While I have never faced the dilemma of spending days and weeks in a cramped ICU waiting room with my ex’s new partner, my admittedly less stressful encounters with my exes’ new girlfriends have been tense at best…and occasionally even disastrous. Anslinger builds that tension to a crescendo in this story of a different kind of love. In men, we would call this Bromance, but I am not sure there is a female equivalent of that.
In terms of the elements of this story:
1) Characters – This story focuses upon Samantha (Sam), the ex, and Abby, the new girlfriend. Both of these women are realistic, richly developed, and deep characters. While it is possible that readers may find themselves identifying more closely with one or the other women (I am partial to Sam’s maturity over Abby’s petulance), you can connect viscerally with both.
But as a reader, I would have liked to see more development of secondary characters. In particular, Sam’s new husband. This paragon of virtue, who is understanding and supportive when his wife rushes off to spend days and weeks away from him and their life together for the sake of her ex-husband, comes off almost as a stick figure, lacking depth and color. I wanted to get to know him better, but the snippets we have of him were not sufficient to fill-in those gaps for me.
Even Jason does not feel as vibrant or alive as perhaps he could or should. The brief glimpses we get of him, mostly through the flashbacks of these women somehow misses the mark just a bit. Mind you (spoiler alert), perhaps given the ending of this story that is not a bad thing.
2) Pacing – This story can drag a bit at times, but that may be part of its appeal. That dragging recreates the experience of long days and weeks, suspended in limbo as you sit by the bedside of someone you care for. The use of flashbacks to fill in their backstories gives a richness to that pace. So, in the end, I was not disappointed with the slower pace of this story.
3) Point of View – Anslinger utilizes a split first-person narrative between Sam and Abby. By using these points of view, the author allows the reader to connect with both women, to understand the struggles that each faces in a difficult time. I cannot imagine this story working nearly as well with another perspective; even a third-person omniscient narrator would not have allowed the reader to click with these women on such a visceral level.
4) Theme – But once again, the characteristic which sets this book apart from others is its strong central theme: not only of Jason’s struggles with PTSD, but of its far-reaching impacts upon the people who care for him, the nature of women’s friendships, and my favorite, its subtle commentary on society and modernity.
I have highlighted several sections of text, primarily Jason’s, which touched me deeply. Such as the time that he and Abby observed a child with Down’s Syndrome in the park. Being a bit immature, Abby’s first reaction was pity, but Jason’s were profound:
“That kid is probably happier than most kids. He’s probably happier than you and me. Think about it – he’s free from worrying about what other’s thinks about him. We just assume he’s the one with the problem, but maybe it’s us. We’re the one’s who live day to day consumed with what others think of us, trying to fit into this mold that society decides for us. He doesn’t know he’s ‘different’ from everyone else. Maybe the joke’s on us; maybe he thinks we’re the ones who are weird because we sit here and stew in our own misery, judging others because we are insecure with ourselves.”
As the mother of an #ActuallyAutistic daughter, I can relate profoundly to that statement. It is one of the greatest gifts my child has brought into my life, and through the process of accepting and understanding her, I have come to more profound meaning and self-actualization in my own.
Jason’s final words on that subject summarize it perfectly:
“We are a narrow-minded bunch of humans. And selfish to think we are normal. There is no normal.”
But, surprisingly, it was Abby’s insight into Jason’s character that caused me to pause and consider my own foibles, that offered me that most unique moment of literary greatness, to stare into the mirror of self-revelation.
“Jason’s stubbornness was so strong, I sometimes thought it got in the way of him accomplishing big things. If only he could’ve just gone with the flow sometimes. While he was simply trying to express himself and his rights, that stubbornness blocked him in like he was in a cold jail cell.”
Those words forced me to face my demons as only a great book can.
Saving Jason is not a light read. It should perhaps even come with a trigger warning for those facing PTSD, other mental health challenges, and especially those who love them.
Nonetheless, this is a book that is well worth the time and tears that you will shed to get to the end.