"Please don't abandon me. I'll dies here, don't you see?",
This review is from: Blue Asylum (Hardcover)
I have been a fan of Hepinstall's work since The House of Gentle Men, Blue Asylum the latest offering of a writer of great insight, compassion and an appreciation for the nuances of humanity and the natural world. Hepinstall's characters are so finely etched as to seem transparent, her descriptions of place tactile and vivid in this Civil War drama of a Virginia plantation owner's wife sent to Sanibel Asylum to be treated for "insanity" in spite of her protestations of sanity. Affecting a cure is the misogynistic, egocentric Dr. Henry Cowell, a physician lauded by his supporters for the successful treatment of womanly troubles and hysteria. Cowell grows increasingly obsessed with his intransigent new patient, Iris Dunleavy, who refuses to be intimidated by Cowell's hectoring or the arbitrary provocations of an increasingly hostile matron.
The mad are gathered in a tropical island setting surrounded by the ocean, kept in line by the doctor's rigid ideology, as assortment of confused ladies and addled men, some with true mental conditions, like Ambrose Weller, a Confederate soldier suffering the trauma of a battlefield tragedy, his nerves easily triggered by loud noises. When iris and Ambrose begin a cautious friendship, both find comfort, but at great cost under Cowell's watchful eye. Wendell, twelve, Cowell's son, has no friends his age on the island, slipping into the shadows and madness as he attached himself first to the doomed, but beautiful, red-haired Penelope, later to Iris, who carefully balances on the knife-edge of the boy's interest. The sky is permeated with blue, waves teasing the shore, as passions build to a breaking point. Cowell, Wendell and Ambrose focus on the comely Mrs. Dunleavy, who casts her gaze farther than the asylum's boundaries, beyond the vain conceits of small men.
Iris and Ambrose share an impulsive kiss, the tension of their attraction like an invisible thread tying one to the other: "the kiss... had spilled across her plans like the content of an inkwell." Iris wrenches her freedom from those who would suffocate her identity in the world, shivering with fear while embracing a future that includes Ambrose, Hepinstall hanging her fictional gallery with lush images like Impressionist paintings, where Dr. Cowell and Wendell stare, mute, a tiny room becomes a lover's sanctuary, the chaos of war held at bay by a locked door. There are other pictures: a terrified young soldier about to be executed, a field of dead slaves, bloody fingers staining blue water, a red-haired beauty filling her pockets with stones the better to drown, a doctor finally denuded of pretensions. While Civil War rages, more intimate ones are fought in private, hearts both torn and healed, life both poignant and treacherous. Luan Gaines/2012.