by Sara Sligar
Trendy #MeToo and spousal abuse themes are woven through this modern gothic novel.
After a ho-hum beginning, TAKE ME APART hits its stride with the wrenching story of a woman photographer (Miranda Brand) struggling with fame, post-partum psychosis, motherhood and having her personal and professional lives taken over by a competitive husband and a greedy agent.
For Kate Aiken, whose career was destroyed when she accused a supervisor of sexual harassment, being hired by Miranda’s son Theo to catalog her personal papers for auction is a lifeline.
Theo’s father, the painter Jake Brand, has recently died. Theo wants to sell the house where he grew up and Miranda killed herself at the age of 35.
Kate shares with Miranda a struggle with mental illness. After her accusation against her supervisor was largely ignored, she had an emotional breakdown and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her new job takes her away from her tainted reputation, her wary friends and excessively vigilant and protective parents.
The more Kate learns about Miranda and her struggles, the more she is drawn to her. Rumors about her untimely death fester with suggestions she was murdered. Some even suggest that Theo killed her.
Kate also finds herself increasingly drawn to Theo, a tech entrepreneur, divorced and raising two young children on his own. Is her mental condition leading her into obsession — or is she falling in love?
Despite Theo’s orders to limit her work to the papers collected in the dining room of the Brand house, Kate explores the house when Theo leaves to pick up his kids from camp. Kate finds Miranda’s diary and reads it in brief snippets in Theo’s absence.
Author Sara Sligar alternates chapters between Kate’s contemporary life and Miranda’s life in the 1980s up until November 1993, when she committed suicide. The dual threads of Kate’s relationship with Theo and Miranda’s struggles with art, love, motherhood and abuse are suspenseful.
Sligar doesn’t delve deeply into Kate’s issues. It would have been understandable for Kate to fall into a depression after being sexually harassed and then not taken seriously. To add bipolar disorder to her situation seems excessive and makes Kate a suspect narrator. Her heedlessness about getting emotionally and sexually involved with her new boss Theo is inexplicable. Her snooping through his house when told not to and her conflicts with him seem shallow and contrived.
But flaws, not withstanding, this is an entertaining read.
About the Author: Sara Sligar
Sara Sligar teaches English and creative writing at the University of Southern California (USC) as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in English and French at Amherst College, she earned a master’s degree in modern European history from the University of Cambridge. Her master’s dissertation was about the use of art vandalism as a militant tactic by the British women’s suffrage movement. She earned a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.
Her academic focus is on 20th and 21st century American fiction, film and television. She is currently research a book on the development of the legal procedural genre in the context of historical changes in American criminal procedure. She has described it as a “genealogy” of “Law & Order.”
At USC, she has taught courses on the vigilante in American literature and incarceration in popular culture.