Bittersweet has never been as beautiful, heartbreaking, and provoking as it is in Sarah Elizabeth Schantz’s coming-of-age tale, Fig.
When Fig realizes Mama is sick, the deep love she bears for her mother becomes her burden as well. She takes on the fierce battle to help Mama reclaim her mind from a disease as constricting as barbed wire, schizophrenia. An insurmountable task for a six-year-old. Over the course of the novel, Fig makes daily sacrifices, ones she fully believes will make Mama whole again, but instead ends up losing herself in the process.
Schantz’s writing style can best be described as evocative, lovely and heartbreaking. She achieves clarity in communicating the raw emotion of her characters in a way that feels unrushed, yet there are no wasted breaths in Fig. Each word, sentence and paragraph reveals the unplumbed depths of the novel’s layers in a way that makes you want to gather the young Fig into your arms and say, “There, there. It’s going to be O.K.,” even though you can see no way out of the despair her family is trapped in.
While the book centers around characters with mental disease, I felt Schantz avoided making an overt, unearned commentary on mental illness, aside from that the people it affects are so much more than their condition. Schizophrenia and OCD manifest in Fig and her mother in good and in bad ways, and both are people that are worthy of compassion. Often, those who struggle with these types of conditions are ignored or broomed into the corners of society – Schantz shows us that these people are our mothers, our daughters, our fathers and sons. We should not relegate them to the edges.
The novel also explores the nuanced relationship between daughter and mother, girl and woman, self and other. It’s a rare debut from an author that bares the soul not only of the characters, but of the reader as well.
If you want to read and remember one book this year, make sure it’s Fig.