A mother's fear: a knock on the door from family protective services talking about taking away your child. What good mother wouldn't turn somersaults to keep her child home and her family intact? Any good mother would—but in Kristina Riggle's novel, Keepsake, doing just that is especially demanding. The reason that social worker is standing at the door ties directly into her addiction—hoarding. Hoarding is the inability to throw anything out, to the point of filling one's living space with items until there is no room to live within that space.
Trish really is a good mother. It's a pleasure to read about her interactions with her little boy, Jack, contrasting against the twinge of reading about her disorder. Addicts can still love, but it's their behavior that is out of control. Riggle does a wonderful job of showing the reader that an addiction does not define a person. It's a symptom of something buried deep inside that the person has not yet confronted and resolved.
Adding another interesting element of contrast to this story about hoarding and families is another member of the family, Trish's sister Mary. The two women are actually the daughters of a hoarder, but while one has followed in the cluttered steps of her mother, the other has veered to the other extreme. If not quite an obsessive compulsive disorder, Mary is a neat freak who can't seem to stop cleaning, wiping, vacuuming, ordering everything in her spotless home.
Riggle's novel handles these elements without any clutter on the author's part. The story cleanly moves toward a suspenseful ending: will this family be torn apart or brought together by the damage done by hoarding? Ex-husbands return, therapists sneak in disguised as friends who somehow manage to add elements of romance, and family history is unearthed to reveal deep secrets held over generations.
Keepsake is a fascinating read about a growing affliction in modern American society, giving readers insight into how intelligent, competent people can fall into behavior patterns with the potential to ruin lives, break apart families and endanger not only themselves but those that are close to them. It also brings up the question of why we are seeing more hoarding in our society. Insight into this phenomenon of living in clutter, unable to throw out anything, let go of any object in one's home, can only help us take a hard look at ourselves and how we live.
Kristina Riggle is a novelist and freelance writer living in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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