Save Yourself – Kelly Braffet

I thought I was particularly canny when I drew a parallel between my workplace and The Eagles 1977 classic (in my opinion best rock song of all-time) Hotel California years ago. It turns out that the thought was not as original as it may have seemed.

Last thing I remember, I was running for the door I had to find the passage back to the place I was before “Relax, ” said the night man, “We are programmed to receive. You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave! “

Save-YourselfPerhaps it is just a case of great minds thinking alike or maybe I am just not as clever as I thought but in Save Yourself, Kelly Braffet’s Patrick Cusimano draws the same conclusion about his life. I am not sure what I was expecting with Save Yourself but I can safely say that it was not what I anticipated. The single best line had to be Layla’s description of Patrick…

You’re like Norman Bates, only with less facial hair.”

Patrick Cusimano’s life can’t get much worse. His father is in jail, he works the midnight shift at a grubby convenience store, and his brother’s girlfriend, Caro, has pushed their friendship to an uncomfortable new level.  On top of all that, he can’t shake the attentions of Layla Elshere, a goth teenager who befriends Patrick for reasons he doesn’t understand, and doesn’t fully trust. The temptations these two women offer are pushing Patrick to his breaking point.

Meanwhile, Layla’s little sister, Verna, is suffering through her first year of high school.  She’s become a prime target for her cruel classmates, and not just because of her strange name and her fundamentalist parents. Layla’s bad-girl rep casts a shadow too heavy for Verna to bear alone, so she falls in with her sister’s tribe of outcasts. But their world is far darker than she ever imagined…

Unless Patrick, Layla, Caro, and Verna can forge their own twisted paths to peace—with themselves, with each other—then they’re stuck on a dangerous collision course where the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Told from four different POV’s each character is desperately trying to save themselves. Patrick is trying to come to terms with the overwhelming guilt he feels from turning in his father after he kills a child when driving home drunk. Caro is searching for that perfect life, the one she was denied growing up with a mother suffering from schizophrenia. Sisters Layla and Verna are both trying to live with the consequences of their parent’s fanatical religious crusades that have subjected them each in their own way to relentless persecution from their peers.

After their father is sent to prison, the locals, denied a target for their fury, vilify his sons for waiting an interminable 19 hours to call the police. Caro inexplicably turns from Patrick’s brother Mike, to him muddying the waters of a once solid friendship. Layla lost in her own way and fascinated with the younger Cusimano son searches him out initiating a complicated relationship with a man nine years her senior. Verna, the younger Elshere daughter, the good daughter after Layla’s seemingly inexplicable fall from grace is having her own difficulties with bullying and after witnessing the behavior of her once idolized parents toward her sister, she is unwilling to turn to them. However, the purgatory in which they are living is finite the choices that they are making rather than leading them into the light may in fact pave the way to hell.

Save Yourself was a compelling story, surprisingly resonate, with superb characterization, you felt sympathy towards each of those four persons trapped in their own way and unable to save themselves from destruction. It is a modern allegory of the society in which we all navigate everyday Kelly Braffet has crafted an extraordinary story of regular people just trying to survive circumstances that may not be endurable.

AUTHOR: Kelly Braffet

RATING: 4 Stars

GENRE: Literary Fiction


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