Bright Burning Things

HarperVia. Dec. 2021. 336p. ISBN 9780063097148. $26.99. F
Irish writer Harding (Harvesting) takes readers on an intimate tour of a woman’s booze-addled mind, then ratchets up the heartbreak with a four-year-old and a dog. When Sonya Moriarty was an actress, she lived for applause and her passion controlled the stage, but it came to a screeching halt when she got pregnant. The baby’s father didn’t want the child and said Sonya wasn’t “mother material,” so she resolved to raise him alone. Now that her son Tommy is four, the only thing left to absorb her creative passion is alcohol; perpetually drunk Sonya relies on her rescue dog to protect Tommy. She barely remembers to feed either of them, and then it’s fish fingers or pizza. One night, she scares herself by losing her temper, letting “the bad fairy in,” as Tommy says. The neighbors believe she’s neglecting Tommy, so Sonya’s estranged father convinces her to go into rehab, where she dutifully works her 12-week program. But to get Tommy back, Sonya must prove she can live responsibly in the real world, which is harder than she thought.
VERDICT Through Harding’s realistic writing, one feels the profound desperation and pain of addiction. Readers won’t soon forget this viscerally raw immersion into addiction.
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