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  • Writer's pictureheidigrantbader

With Friends Like These...

Updated: Feb 5, 2022

I agree with another reviewer who characterized this novel as 28 Days meets Desperate Housewives and I have yet to come up with a more fitting comparison. Cheryl, the debut novel by Michael Parkes is an impressive tome weighing in at 510 pages. It grabbed me from the tragic beginning, and from there I strapped into the roller coaster ride, committed to the twists and careening turns, rises, and falls.

Cheryl is a tragi-comic character who makes every bad decision possible. It’s her humanness that causes me to stay with her and root for her success, although time and again, she spirals downward, a little lower with each revolution.

The tone of this novel is light despite the serious and sometimes dark subject matter. A family is broken by tragedy, frayed by continued substance abuse and neglect by the matriarch. But Cheryl’s turbulent antics are so self-destructive as to occasionally provide some comic relief from the otherwise bleakness of this suburb rife with drug abuse and shallow residents. That Cheryl’s husband and daughter hang on and don’t follow her down their own subversive paths is miraculous and what may save her from herself. Anyone who has experienced or witnessed a loved one attempting recovery from addiction won’t be surprised by the bouncing back and forth from rehab to using and back again.

I am most amazed by the fact that throughout the protracted pages (which I emphasize because I’ve never read such a lengthy novel before) the author maintains tension as well as the reader’s interest and engagement. Although Cheryl is a trainwreck, we want to see where she lands. I am very curious about the author’s choice of character foibles and subject matter for his first novel, and what or who served as his inspiration. He is at the very front end of his writing career and I look forward to seeing what sorts of narratives and personalities spring to life for him on his future book projects. I just saw that he's published his second book, a collection of short stories called Gnomes and Knights, an easily consumable 80 pages. I will add that to my reading list!

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