Review: JANE by Riya Anne Polcastro

Jane.Jane. by Riya Anne Polcastro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Note: I was provided a copy of this text by the author in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. The author and reviewer have no prior knowledge of or interaction with one another beyond the review of this book.
Every so often you come across a book that comes at you from out of nowhere, jumps into your hands and demands to be read, the voice (or voices, it’s appropriate here) within so fresh and original you have no choice but to sit down and have at it. Polcastro’s Jane is one of those books.
Much akin to my shock and awe in reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, for his entirely original voice, impeccable character creation, expression, and navigation, as well as story flow, Jane caught me by surprise. Salem Oregon comes to life as only a geographical native can describe with all the familiar mixed feelings of hate and home, its kooky inhabitants painted in stark colors meant not to glorify the crazy but to illuminate a dark underbelly in all its realism.
Polcastro doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable in her work, instead embracing it for all its storytelling purposes and possibilities. Mental health, or lack thereof, is a clear and present theme throughout this book with Aunt Rose’s erratic, irrational behaviors setting the tone in the beginning. Jane has been fooled into the caretaking of her Aunt and through their re-acquaintance in Jane’s taking on the role, we’re introduced to the familial relationship stemming back to Jane’s childhood to explain her current almost blasé approach to her aunt’s antics. This introduction, in fact, opens the door for an exploration of a much deeper issue, one that leads Jane ever deeper into her pursuit of madness and walking the fine line between sanity and ‘bat-shit crazy’.
The human psyche is a complex maze that the author has seemingly mapped in exquisite detail, giving us a story that examines the ties that bind us and how we, as human beings, both fight those bonds and embrace them particularly those of family. Did Darla, Jane’s mother, create a self-fulfilling prophecy in telling Jane she’d someday end up institutionalized like her Aunt Rose? We wonder this as we watch Jane simultaneously retreat from her aunt’s madness yet descend into her own increasingly reckless and dangerous behaviors without or perhaps realizing the innate similarities and using them as subconscious fuel for the fire.
Again, like Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, there is more to Jane’s current situation and behavior than first suspected. Where does the crazy begin? Is it just Rose, or were there more family dynamics at play behind the scenes, possibly even stemming back through the years into Jane’s childhood? Whose version of old family stories is right? Where is the nugget of truth, if there’s one at all? How far back, and through how many perspectives do you need to go before you finally find the root of the problem?
Our adult lives are the culmination of all of the events of our childhood, and all of the programmings those events instilled within our developing brains. We are the products of our parents, and our parents are the products of their parents, and so the cycle continues looping backward and forward through time everlasting. Polcastro does an amazing job of illustrating this point, reaching back into the past for the pieces of the puzzle that at once give Jane’s elusive grasp on sanity a firm rooting in the present. However, what it will do toward the prospect of breaking said cycle is left up the reader to imagine in a drop off ending that left me speechless. However, I can’t imagine this book ending any other way except with an abrupt jerk that all too easily simulates real life’s unpredictability.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book for the fresh writing, undaunted subject material, and audacity of storytelling. I rank Polcastro up there with Wally Lamb, another of my favorites, and I’ll be sure to catch up with any and everything else she’s written. 5 stars all around for this original work of fiction.

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