By Joseph Sale – When you’ve created characters people care about in a series, ending it can be impossible. How to do them justice? How to resolve those arcs in a satisfying way? Endings are hard enough, but the weight of your reader’s time and commitment makes it even more challenging. I was concerned going into book three of the Sick series, because I knew, as a writer, how hard this can be. I needn’t have been. Christa handles the ending with a sure and steady hand. Sick Book III is the best of the series, undoubtedly. The prose is electrifying, and after a certain critical event which changes the dynamic of the relationship forever, the book becomes un-put-downable.
Both Susan and John prove that they are not tired old characters returned for a third outing, but rather living, sinuous human beings, desperately shaped by circumstance and desperate to change their fate. The two characters grow immensely, and in often unexpected ways. Christa also plays beautifully with symbolism, irony, karma, and tackles the timeless themes of death and love in original ways. Once again she proves that it is in the micro-logical, the infinitesimally small details of the piece, that we find the truth of the whole. She speaks with immense authority about medical issues, legal and police procedures, cementing the narrative as a compellingly real story, whilst also moving the story towards epic, spiritual, redemptive territory.
There are certainly shades of Shawshank Redemption in this novel in terms of its approach to character and its themes of psychological imprisonment, as well as shades of the Dallas Buyers Club in its portrayal of a slow evolution of character in the face of utter disintegration. The latter half of the book, where we shift from Susan’s perspective to John, is page-turning and harrowing. The prose style brilliantly mimics John’s mental and physical journey, paring down, stripping away ornamentation, until we are left with a naked prose reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy; it cuts to the core of life’s biggest questions, and resonates in a deeply moving way.
However bleak this review makes Part III, the ending is surprisingly upbeat. Christa puts her characters through the abyss and back, and in the end, she earns a hopeful flame. Although, in keeping with the rest of the series, that flame is distorted with one final, dark twist – one I honestly did not see coming.
Sick’s final gift is its last line, as Gothic as anything in Edgar Allan Poe, sending off the series and her beloved characters with a fittingly warped triumph.
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