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Blood Orange Is an Intriguing but Uneven Thriller

July 22, 2010

Blood Orange by Drusilla Campbell
published by Kensington, July 1, 2005

Dana Cabot escaped her lonely childhood and married the man of her dreams. Now her husband David, a football quarterback turned defense attorney, is a workaholic. Most of Dana’s life is focused on their beloved 7-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has special needs. Dana is trying to salvage bits of her former life, when she was a doctoral candidate in Art History. Then Bailey disappears from their home. Dana suspects it happened because of David’s involvement in a high profile, controversial case — he’s defending a man who may have brutally murdered a child. Their marriage is unraveling, and Dana is hiding secrets of her own.

This author writes skillfully, using artful turns of phrase which I enjoyed. She effectively explored the ambivalence felt by a mother who’s put her own life on the back burner to care for a high-needs child. Many women will be able to relate to Dana’s struggles with motherhood. I could truly feel how lovely and delightful Bailey is, and also how exhausting she can be. Drusilla Campbell also did an outstanding job of showing us the point when the seismic cracks in a marriage begin to open and everything begins to crumble.

All these strengths, along with Dana’s passion for early Italian Renaissance art and a few glorious glimpses of Florence, sweetened what was otherwise a disappointing mystery/thriller. For one thing, I found both Dana and David supremely unlikeable. I really wanted to connect with them; these are parents faced with the possibility of losing a beloved child forever — how could they not find a place in my heart? But I found David incredibly manipulative and controlling. Both he and Dana are tremendously selfish, and I found their values shallow. I tried to at least care about Dana, but as I watched her do one monumentally stupid thing after another, my empathy withered. As for the mystery itself, it revolved around several twists which were entirely too predictable, plus several implausible scenarios.

On the positive side, Campbell is a talented writer, and she explored the themes of loss, betrayal, guilt, and forgiveness in a compassionate way. She also offered several interesting secondary characters, including Lexy, a recovering alcoholic and professional model turned priest. She was an intelligent character with an edge, and I enjoyed her reflections on faith and what it means to do Christ’s work. How many of us are willing to take an unflinching look at ourselves and require ourselves to truly love our fellow humans unconditionally? That takes tremendous strength, and it’s at the heart of spiritual growth.

While this book, as a whole, didn’t work for me, I was impressed with this author’s abilities and will probably read more of her work. And I hope she’ll return to the themes of motherhood, marriage, guilt, and forgiveness in other novels.

Read More Reviews: Book Addiction; The Lovely Wife


8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2010 7:15 pm

    I had wanted to read this for a while and never got around to it. That would have probably really bothered me about the parents not being likable though. Especially with such a sensitive topic.

    • July 22, 2010 7:33 pm

      That’s a good point. When dealing with a sensitive topic like this, your feelings toward the characters are especially important. If you decide to read this, I’ll be very interested to find out whether your reaction is similar to mine.

  2. July 23, 2010 2:43 am

    I just got this book about a month ago because I too thought it sounded intriguing. Often times, I’ll really dislike a character, but still like like the book. I wonder sometimes, did the author intend for the character(s) to be unlikeable? Sometimes it’s an obvious yes, but not always.

    • July 23, 2010 2:52 am

      Steph — I was wondering how the author felt about her characters. I had the feeling she wanted us to see Dana and David as deeply flawed but redeemable. I just couldn’t make a positive connection, and it affected my enjoyment of the book. I am looking forward to seeing what you think of this novel!

  3. July 23, 2010 7:21 am

    I’m sorry to hear it didn’t quite work for you. But it sounds like it did have its strong points.

  4. July 23, 2010 5:30 pm

    This sounds like a difficult read for some reason.

  5. July 24, 2010 3:20 pm

    It’s very hard to overcome dislikeable protagonists and enjoy a book – that’s a rare occurence for me.

  6. July 25, 2010 12:41 am

    I often find that the books with the most sensitive topics while difficult to read leave the most indelible imprint. Maybe it’s not the unlikeability of the character but whether that unlikeableness is realistic … does that make sense? I wouldnt mind reading this one 🙂

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