Published: September 3rd, 2020
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Humor, Satire, Psychological Fiction, Humorous Fiction
Thank you to Riverrun for my gifted copy of the book and invitation to the readalong.
A disturbing portrait of a modern American family.
An extraordinary debut novel by Natasha Randall, exposing the seam of secrets within an American family, from beneath the plastic surfaces of their new ‘smart’ home. Love Orange charts the gentle absurdities of their lives, and the devastating consequences of casual choices.
While Hank struggles with his lack of professional success, his wife Jenny, feeling stuck and beset by an urge to do good, becomes ensnared in a dangerous correspondence with a prison inmate called John. Letter by letter, John pinches Jenny awake from the “marshmallow numbness” of her life. The children, meanwhile, unwittingly disturb the foundations of their home life with forays into the dark net and strange geological experiments.
Jenny’s bid for freedom takes a sour turn when she becomes the go-between for John and his wife, and develops an unnatural obsession for the orange glue that seals his letters…
Love Orange throws open the blinds of American life, showing a family facing up to the modern age, from the ascendancy of technology, the predicaments of masculinity, the pathologising of children, the epidemic of opioid addiction and the tyranny of the WhatsApp Gods. The first novel by the acclaimed translator is a comic cocktail, an exuberant skewering of contemporary anxieties and prejudices.
Jenny Tinkley lives with her husband Hank and their two sons, Jessie and Luke, in a quiet suburban town. They’re a picture-perfect family living in the picture-perfect smart home. But behind the glossy, perfect sheen there are cracks: Jenny feels bored and stuck in her life, Hank is frustrated by his lack of professional success and their children are each facing their own worries and challenges.
To try and escape the monotony, Jenny begins a correspondence with a prison inmate named John. She finds excitement in their letters, but things start to unravel when Jenny agrees to become a go-between for John and his wife and develops a strange obsession with the orange glue that seals his letters.
The characters are the driving force of this story. They are compelling, relatable, and instantly familiar as someone who could be your neighbour. Jenny is a typical suburban mum. I found her relatable but did struggle to warm to her, particularly as the story went on and her actions became increasingly selfish as she spiralled into addiction. I hated Hank. He was misogynistic, toxic, controlling, and just generally awful. I thought the author did a great job of writing him and managing to evoke such strong feelings of dislike in not only me, but every other reader I’ve spoken to. For me, it was the kids that drew me to them most of all. My heart broke for them and the things they went through. I think one complaint I have about the book was that I would have liked the children to have featured more.
I also liked how the smart house was like another character. Jenny sees the house as spying on her and controlling their lives. She gets a kick from outwitting it and managing to do things unnoticed. She even tells Hank to ask the house if he has any questions at one point. I would hate to live in a house like theirs and can understand why she felt the way she did. Sometimes you can have too much technology.
I did have two issues with the book that I would like to address. The first one was how the therapist told the family that Luke wasn’t autistic because he showed a high level of empathy. This perpetuates the false narrative that autistic people aren’t empathetic which is completely wrong. While they can struggle with processing and expressing emotion, people with autism are often highly empathetic, my own son included. Second of all was how it portrayed everyone who takes pain pills as addicts. While I liked that the book raised the issue of opiate addiction, I did feel like the portrayal spiraled into harmful stereotypes. My biggest issue was with the following quote:
“The thing about pain pills is that they take away pain. Any kind of pain. It gets so that people can’t even get out of bed for the pain that life becomes… compared to the high.”
As someone who uses opiates for chronic pain, the idea that we all become addicted and care only about the high is harmful, offensive and factually incorrect. I don’t get high. Pain medication is the ONLY reason I can get out of bed and live a life that has a sliver of normality. Dependency to help ease pain is not addiction, and while some people do unfortunately spiral into an addiction, I personally know many more who are languishing in agony with no life because they’ve been tarred with the same brush as an addict and denied any relief from their chronic and debilitating pain. For me the quote above is like saying all people who drink alcohol do so to get drunk and become alcoholics. But these are personal feelings and I don’t think everyone reading will feel the same way. So I encourage you to read for yourself.
But I don’t want this to come across as sounding like I didn’t like the book, because I did. Love Orange is an absorbing and addictive debut novel that explores family, secrets and addiction in modern society. It is beautifully written, immediately draws you into the the Tinkley’s world. I also really liked the quirky humour that runs through the story. There are so many laugh-out-loud moments that made this a joy to read.
I read the book as part of a readalong organised by the publisher and really enjoyed the chats where I got to see the different things others noticed and the varied ways we can interpret the same book.
A beautifully written look at a fractured family and life in suburban America, I would recommend this novel and can’t wait to read more from the author in the future.
MEET THE AUTHOR:
Natasha Randall is a writer and translator, living in London. Her writing and critical work has appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Moscow Times, BookForum, The New York Times, Strad magazine, HALI magazine and on National Public Radio (USA). She is a contributing editor to the New York-based literary magazine A Public Space. Her debut novel Love Orange will be released by riverrun (Quercus, Hachette) in September 2020.
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