After three years of desperation, her release may be a new beginning... or it may be her end.
Miscarrying Theodore on Leap Day devastated Mandelyn and Henry in ways that weren’t obvious at first. As year followed year, postpartum depression, marital dysfunction, and ethical corruption quietly metastasized under the guise of a lovely home and stable careers.
To free herself of yearning and regret, Mandelyn turns to journaling with a virtual counselor, waxing nostalgic for past loves—sharp-witted Joshua, mercurial Sam, and enigmatic Dante. Never mind that Joshua came out of the closet after years of chaste camaraderie, Sam toyed with her emotions, and Dante, after a steamy year that culminated in a summer trip to India, simply faded from her life without explanation.
Never mind that, discovering her journals, Henry makes a heartbreaking decision:
“I release you. Go. Find yourself. See if something or someone—in your past or in your future—holds the keys to your happiness. Maybe you’ll find that you have what you need somewhere inside you. If you don’t live this life fully, Mandelyn, it won’t be on my account. I think you know I love you, but if the character of my love doesn’t fulfill you, I don’t have anything else to offer.
Quantum nonlocality, Proustian memory, and the energy vortexes of Sedona, Arizona play into the Odyssey takes through the chasms between science and religion, perception and reality, head and heart, love and lust, and forgiveness and gratitude.
When I was offered a review copy of this novel, I hesitated for a while, but only because I had so many reviews that I’d committed to. As it is, I waited longer than I meant to before posting it. This is in no way a reflection of Hope Russell Nunki’s fantastic novel.
From the first scene, where Mandelyn comes home to find her husband Henry confronting her with information about her files, through the next chapter, where we learn about their stillborn son, four years earlier, through the rest of the novel, the author writes with a clear voice, in first person (which can often be tricky). We feel her protagonist’s pain even when we sympathize with Henry…and we want to see her life improve.
What follows is a journey through pain and loss to self-awareness, and eventually self-fulfillment. The pitch I received described this novel as both ‘poignant’ and ‘hilarious’ and both are equally true. This is contemporary women’s fiction at its best: full of characters that sound real, emotions that ring true, and situations that may be somewhat heightened versions of reality, but never lack plausibility.
It’s a gripping debut novel, a compelling read, and one I highly recommend. As well, I look forward to what Hope Russell Nunki creates next (no pressure.)
In the midst of the hustle and the bustle of daily life, it’s easy to let the days, weeks and even years pass by, becoming inured to a state in which unhappiness has taken hold. Odds are, as is the case with Release’s heroine Mandelyn, you don’t even know how you got there. Mandelyn has an admirable career, two rescue pitbulls, a handsome husband and a love that’s worth saving. But their fortitude as a couple is tested after tragedy makes its way into their marriage. Unable to come up for air, their relationship gradually starts to crumble. Then, Mandelyn’s life reaches a breaking point—something drastic happens that brings her back to reality.
Everyone knows how it feels when you’re caught. Flashing lights in the rear-view mirror. A teacher’s tap on the shoulder. Mom or Dad hollering from the porch. As I crossed my threshold, nothing in my home felt level or square. The parallel and perpendicular lines of tables and picture frames, of banisters and stair treads all felt askew. Our dogs didn’t meet me at the door. The light was all wrong, and my vision wavered at the periphery. Sleet pelted against the window, yet the room felt silent.
And there he was, with my laptop open, the screen facing me. Henry sat motionless, facing away. “Where have you been?” he rasped without turning around.
“The storm, traffic,” I said. The drive from Chicago took more than three hours—a distance that rarely took a third of that in good weather. He looked my way. His eyes were dead and forlorn. “Mandelyn, where have you been? Come and tell me,” he said, patting the cushion beside him.
I shed my long black parka over the railing and my bags at the foot of the steps, then I circled the sofa to sit beside him. “Where are Frank and Lloyd?” I asked, but as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I remembered. “Oh, shit. Day care.”
Unphased, he continued. “I had to use your computer. I caught an early train to avoid the crowds. I didn’t want to haul an ice-crusted backpack through Ogilvie. I needed to work, but I couldn’t find the tablet.”
“I have it,” I said, beginning to rise, but he stopped me with his right hand over mine.
“What is CVC, who is Morgan, and, one more time, Where. Have. You. Been?”
In the absence of communication, Mandelyn’s journey begins.
Release, by newcomer Hope Russell Nunki, is a poignant story about a woman who decides to stop being trapped in the space between empty words and lack of passion, and find out why complacency has taken the reins in her life. Three years have passed since the event that caused the couple so much pain. Something had to give. But to move forward and forgive herself, Mandelyn has to allow herself to be set free and let passion rule, and readers are brought along for the ride. It’s as though we are hearing the best parts of a profound conversation.
“I have to release you. Go. Find yourself. See if something or someone—in your past or in your future—holds the keys to your happiness. Maybe you’ll find what you need somewhere inside you. If you don’t live this life fully, Mandelyn, it won’t be on my account. I think you know I love you, but if the character of my love doesn’t fulfill you, I don’t have anything else to offer.”
Release captures a woman’s experience coming to terms with how her past has shaped her present, while also nudging readers into evaluating their own relationships. Written in beautiful, thoughtful prose, the novel reminds us to slow down and ponder the roles we allow people to play in our lives; that we are never too complete to seek new answers. After all, there is no relationship more complicated than the one we have with ourselves.
Ashley K. Devick is a professional writer, editor and business owner based in Chicago. When she’s not blogging about business and bridesmaids, she is writing all things real estate and design for Splash Home with the Chicago Sun-Times. She has a masters degree in journalism from the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism and a bachelors degree in Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee. For more information from a constantly updated website, please visit ashleydevick.com.
There were lots of surprises hidden in Release by Hope Russell Nunki.
I love the point when you can find the title of a book within the pages, and I always anticipate the moment of finding it and making that connection with the author. Although this happened relatively early in this book, the meaning behind the title shifted and morphed throughout, and that was an interesting twist.
Speaking of twists, there are some others, too! I love a book that can keep your mind engaged with just enough predictability to feel like home and then surprise you with a twist you weren’t expecting.
Although this is a work of fiction, the author writes in such a way as to describe the different settings in this book perfectly. Having graduated from a small private college in Iowa, I can attest that Hope Russell Nunki is spot-on in her depiction of that experience. At times, it was as though I was looking back at footage of my own college days. As odd as it sounds, in addition to my Midwestern roots, I have also fallen in love with the desert southwest, so it’s never a surprise for me when a main character does as well.
Release wasn’t just a book of happiness and light, though. In fact, for those of us with certain triggers, parts of this book were hard to read. As someone who has suffered a miscarriage I will tell you, the heartache, pain, confusion, and second-guessing of every minute detail and the hysteria it can cause are very real. Some work through things in more efficient ways than others. The sting of such a loss may never truly die, and the rate at which it fades is based on a myriad of factors. Again, the author succeeded in making this fictional story very real.
Was it worth reliving personal pain to experience this story along with Mandelyn? Yes, it was. As uncomfortable as this is, it’s an integral part of Mandelyn and Henry’s story.
I loved the journey this story provides, with all the ups and downs, and twists and turns. I found myself crossing my fingers for various characters in this book. At times my wishes were granted, and at others, not so much. I couldn’t wait to see how it would end.