Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Elected Member by Bernice Rubens

The Elected Member centres on the Zweck family: a father lives above the shop he keeps with his son and one of his daughters. His son, Norman, is ailing from a drug addiction that brings on vivid hallucinations of silver fish. His daughter, Bella, is still wearing ankle socks despite being decades older than a school girl.

At the beginning of the novel, Bella and her father call out the doctor for the umpteenth time after Norman has another bad bout of hallucination. The doctor convinces them that, with Norman's repeated relapses, the only way to help him is to commit him to a home, where he can be rehabilitated.

Norman's 'incarceration' prompts a reflective mood in the family, and little by little, we learn about the family's history and the dark secrets that are the root cause of unhappiness for each of the Zwecks.

The book is easy to read, and though much is revealed, the pace of the story seems rather plodding - a pace that fits Norman's mentality. The reflective and nostalgic reminiscence is in contrast with the present day action, where both the care home and the family home are places of turmoil and chaos.

I found the Zwecks irritating in different ways, but really enjoyed Norman's fellow 'in-mates' with their varying psychoses and idiosyncracies. Though the subject matter has a dark heart, The Elected Member displays a lightness of touch that reveals it as a moving drama about the ultimately transitory nature of the family unit.

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