Book Review: Sleeping with Patty Hearst by Mary Lambeth Moore
“As America debates its most famous kidnapping case of the 1970s, a divided family in North Carolina copes with its own missing person. Lily Stokes searches for her half-sister with help from her mother’s boyfriend, a freewheeling man who likes Lily a little too much. While keeping secrets at home and then escaping into an odd marriage, Lily takes an imaginative look at her mother’s notorious past and her sister’s surprising future. Sleeping with Patty Hearst is a gripping coming-of-age story with edge and heart.”
—-Trailer for Sleeping with Patty Hearst
Sleeping with Patty Hearst is the finest work of literary fiction I have read in the last ten years—a great book by a writer who has the potential to be very influential on the American literary scene.The characterization of this as a “debut novel” is technically true but somewhat misleading. Ms. Moore has extensive experience as a writer; it just so happens that she is now practicing this talent in the world of fiction. This book is written with confidence and courage; there are issues that Ms. Moore covers that the majority of Americans would prefer to wish out of existence (the positive and negative effects of family dysfunction, the soul-limiting impact of the practice of religion, and “inappropriate” expressions of sexuality that lie beneath the thin layers of our social facades). The character development and interplay are remarkable for their candor and authenticity and the Ms. Moore’s descriptive powers are exceptional. The plot contains fascinating and unexpected turns that kept me on my toes; each time this happened, though, I had to admit that even though I didn’t expect it, the twist was the most effective choice Ms. Moore could have made at that point in the narrative.
The relationships developed through the narrative are realistic, particularly so because the characters drift in and out of each other’s lives due to various circumstances and reasons. All are marked by varying degrees of self-and-other deception, as is the case in nearly all human relationships. This may seem like a minor point, but it illustrates how committed Ms. Moore is to truthful depiction of the human condition. We are not linear beings on linear paths; we grow, change, make mistakes, experience love and hatred for the same person at different times. Ms. Moore allows the characters to be true to themselves and exhibit both human virtues and deficiencies. You will find them both heroic and despicable at times, but there are very few novels in which the characters were so vivid, so genuine and so well-drawn as they are in Sleeping with Patty Hearst.What is best about her writing style is I never felt she was laboring. I detected no “author noise” in the narrative, which is one of the hardest things for an author to do, especially when the narrative is revealed largely in the first-person by the lead character. The writing is so fluid that it seems effortless, even though we know the opposite is true. It takes great effort to appear effortless and I genuinely appreciated this exceptional effort by Mary Lambeth Moore.