Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent
Review by Lauren
Source: copy from ALA17; all opinions are my own
Official Summary (add on Goodreads):
Oliver Ryan, handsome, charismatic, and successful, has long been married to his devoted wife, Alice. Together they write and illustrate award-winning children’s books; their life together one of enviable privilege and ease—until, one evening after a delightful dinner, Oliver delivers a blow to Alice that renders her unconscious, and subsequently beats her into a coma.
In the aftermath of such an unthinkable event, as Alice hovers between life and death, the couple’s friends, neighbors, and acquaintances try to understand what could have driven Oliver to commit such a horrific act. As his story unfolds, layers are peeled away to reveal a life of shame, envy, deception, and masterful manipulation.
What I found intriguing about this book is that it’s told in various point of views. There is, of course, Oliver’s point of view. He’s very laid back – for lack of a better term – about him beating his wife into a coma. It almost seems as if he expected something like this to happen at some point, based on his upbringing. The one point of view that we don’t get is Alice – which makes sense, as the book takes place after she’s in the hospital. While some of the perspectives talk about past events, they are still looking back after years have passed. It would have been nice to hear from Alice, but at the same time, it’s obvious that what Oliver did was wrong. The bigger question is why. What made him act out in such a violent matter, and the rest of the book is mostly focused on this topic. I did feel bad for young Oliver – he very much got dealt a bad hand in life and lacked a lot of love and guidance. That doesn’t excuse his future behavior, and that doesn’t even start with Alice. He does horrific and awful things before beating his wife.
I feel like Unraveling Oliver is almost a case study of a person. There are people from Alice’s past that speak about her and her life growing up, but it all leads back to Oliver. There are little mysteries throughout – I say little because none of them are the main focus of the novel. I thought they were done well though, and I wasn’t able to completely guess everything. Some of it might be a bit too obvious, but as I never saw this one as a straight up mystery, I think it works out okay.