In Sara Sligar’s novel Take Me Apart, former journalist Kate Aiken is under some unspecified cloud when she relocates from New York to California. At the town of Callinas, California, Kate has a new job as archivist for famed, controversial deceased painter, Miranda Brand. Miranda’s house, located dramatically on an isolated coastal cliff top is now owned by her son, Theo, a troubled man who has issues, some of which involve his famous mother. But who wouldn’t have issues growing up with Miranda?
As Kate wades through the chaotic stack (think rooms) of Miranda’s papers, Kate’s task to separate that which is important from the trivial, seems overwhelming, but since she’s there to work and forget about whatever happened in New York (events which are vaguely hinted about), she’s happy to dig in and work.
It looked like a dump truck had backed in through the bay window and unloaded an entire town’s worth of recycling.
But there’s an atmosphere in the house. Touchy Theo wants Kate to work but only within certain confines. Plus then there’s the question of Miranda’s death. Was is a suicide or was it murder? Through Miranda’s journals, a portrait of a troubled woman emerges. Since Miranda had a history of mental illness (including some rather bizarre feeling about her new born son) it’s fairly easy to accept that Miranda topped herself. But then there are rumours…..Her “art dealer had killed her in order to limit supply and raise her value,” that her husband Jake or Theo killed her, or that she was the victim of a serial killer. But then Miranda’s work shows self-inflicted violence:
The next sections were on Inside Me, Miranda’s mutilation series. She had slashed different parts of her body and photographed them up close. A hand, sliced open. The inside of a knee, blood pooling from a horizontal slit. An ear with blood pouring out of the canal, over a diamond earring. The gristle and fat and bone of her, torn open into elegant flicks and syrupy drips.
Take Me Apart has a very slow build up. I wanted to know what the hell happened in New York and found the breadcrumb hints rather scanty and frustrating. Plus then there’s Miranda herself who comes across as a horrible human being…
It was late at night and I had looked at the baby and thought about running a blade through his tiny heart and I knew I could not do this anymore.
The sections regarding the archivist job are interesting, and soon, Kate, who sniffs something is rotten at the heart of Miranda’s death, begins asking questions. This is a tight community in which residents gossip and form opinions. Opinions that they are happy to share. Since Kate is on the run from her own issues, she’s intrigued by Miranda and the journals draw her into Miranda’s world.
The premise of the novel was intriguing but for this reader, the gothic overtones combined with the emphasis on Miranda’s journals were too much. Being inside Miranda’s head made me want to head for the exit. Many reviews bring up the term ‘noir’ but I didn’t get the noir vibe at all. I’ll stick with gothic–with an archivist instead of a governess and with a romance (blech) at the end.