When I reviewed Christy Potter’s collection of short stories earlier this year, she hinted she was working on a novel and I was quick to secure an opportunity to review it. I knew whatever Christy Potter carefully stitched together a novel that would contain her signature ability to grab the small nuances of characters and expose them for bigger influences in a plot. In her debut novel, “Oh Brother”, Christy Potter delivers a story full of personal reflection.
Our protagonist, Ariel Carson is introduced to us as a sculptor and soul searcher, but one who is still navigating the dark waters of coming to terms with an absent mother as well as her own divorce. Believe it or not, Ariel begins to find balance by marrying her ex-husband Ralph’s older brother, Sandy. While Ralph and Ariel were total opposites, Sandy and Ariel complement each other by both being artists and her voice of reason. All is well and good until Ralph is forced to move into Ariel and Sandy’s home after losing his job.
What makes Ariel a true to life character is not only her willingness to accept a situation as it is, but inability to truly recognize when she simply cannot take anymore. Naturally, Ralph needles Ariel at every opportunity. His presence takes a hammer to Ariel and Sandy’s marriage. Where Ariel would normally turn to snacking on Fig Newtons to ease stress, she slowly turns to alcohol just to make it through the day.
The most compelling aspect of “Oh Brother” lies in its transition through objects. Ariel compulsively eats Fig Newtons because they were the last snack given to her by her mother right before she suddenly walked out the door forever. At first the cookies appear to provide comfort, but as Ralph’s life invades Ariel’s newfound happiness, the Fig Newtons serve as a reminder of the oldest and most raw emotional disaster in her life. Only when Ariel puts away the cookies and takes out the bottle of alcohol does her true transformation begin.
“Oh Brother” lives in its recollection of emotional struggle. Ariel’s character constantly runs into the metaphor of the butterfly through her best friend’s surprise pregnancy. In her own work, Ariel tries again and again to sculpt her feelings for upcoming shows only to feel the clay remain cold and lifeless in her hands. Placed above her workspace is Romanian sculptor Brancusi, famous for his pieces appearing simplistic but their details requiring great skill. After coming dangerously close to alcoholism, Ariel finally acknowledges she cannot continue to expect her issues to simply vanish or play themselves out. Like Brancusi’s work, Ariel’s feelings are complex despite her smooth approach to crisis and she begins to not only let her past and present feelings become known to Ralph and Sandy, but whoever else asks.
Christy Potter’s style finds ways to keep her characters balancing on the edge between keeping it together and letting it all go. In the darkest instances of the novel, Potter’s quick wit lightens Ariel’s disposition, returning her to reality. When all hope seems lost, Potter gives even the disdainful Ralph a clue on the path to happiness. “Oh Brother” is not just about navigating hard times headfirst. Potter invites us to look up from time to time at the people around us to see what their roles are in our world and whether or not we’ve allowed each relationship to truly bloom. While Potter sculpts Ariel’s slow spiral out of control, she also builds the saving moment by piecing together the small details in the most climatic moments.
My only reservation about “Oh Brother” was its short length. While the story is satisfying in its 152 pages, I would’ve liked to see a deeper explanation of Ariel’s relationship with her father. Yet, the glimpse Potter does provide the reader leaves us with a feeling her father’s small appearance was exactly what Ariel needed to move forward in the story.
Christy Potter’s debut novel is a very enjoyable and eye opening experience on our individual tendencies to plow through crisis without searching for personal respite. By the end of the novel, Ariel finally found the courage to say what she needed to say, and I have to say, so did I.
For more writing from Christy Potter:
Lauren Mack: Co-founder of The Well Written Woman is an aspiring writer, blogger, and overall enthusiast of brainstorms. She is a graduate of Flagler College with a BA in English Literature and has no intentions to teach. Lauren spends a lot of time reading novels and hoping she can one day finish her own. She often wonders how they made blue cheese so delicious. Really, she is just imposing her elitist attitude on everyone. You can find her sports articles on ChatSports and follow her on Twitter.