Title – The Fainting Room
Author – Sarah Pemberton Strong
Evelyn has the perfect life. A big house. A wonderful doting husband in Ray. A life of leisure and wealth. A far cry from the life she left behind. But it is the life she left behind that is catching up to her. The life of a battered woman. The body covered in tattoos that harkened back to an earlier time. A time when she was little more than a teenage bride in a traveling destitute circus.
A life she thought she had left behind except for the recesses of her mind. A mind that is haunted by the past and a dead husband.
Ray has the perfect life. A beautiful home given to him by his wealthy parents. A job doing what he loves and a wife he adores. A wife who’s past excites and thrills him. A past he doesn’t understand holds dangers that in his world he cannot fathom.
“..There were bad things inside her; things Ray knew nothing about…”
Into this home comes Ingrid. A student at the local private school who is in the midst of being suspended for drinking when she finds that she cannot go home. Her father and new wife are out of the country. Evelyn and Ray decide to take her in. A distraction for the cracks that are being to unravel their marriage.
Ingrid is smart, but rebellious in her musings. She sees in herself a writer of detective novels and begins to sense a mystery in the lives of her caregivers. Slowly she begins to peel back the layers of the relationship between Ray and Evelyn.
“..Each of these possibilities produced the same flare of panic in his chest. Down the hall she was still crying. In the sea of the sound of her sobs Ray sat down, put his head on the desk and cried, too, not only because he had hurt Ingrid, not only for the loss of her who he could never have, but for the loss of the part of himself he most cherished: the part he thought of as Arthur Braeburn Shepard, a good man…”
In her fantasies, as the noir detective she writes about, Ingrid is falling in love with the red haired, tattooed Evelyn with the dark past. Oblivious to the haunting desire that is in Ray’s eyes.
“…Why’s it called a fainting room?” Ingrid asked.
“That’s what the Victorians called it. Some of the houses from this period have a room like this on the second floor. After climbing the stairs in tight corsets,” Ray smiled, “breathless ladies would go into the fainting room to sit down and sniff sal volatile to recover themselves…”
The three, in the large house, this one summer, are colliding in their emotions and desires. Until they are breathless seeking a rest in The Fainting Room.
I really liked The Fainting Room. The characters drive this novel and in this S P Strong has done a masterful job. Evelyn is powerful as the wife with the haunted past who finally has all she ever wanted but finds herself imprisoned in a gilded cage. Ray is the husband, so used to having all he wants, how he wants until he finds something he wants that even he knows he must deny himself. And then there is Ingrid, the lost girl whose desire for a family pushes her way into their lives.
The Fainting Room is a well written emotional roller coaster of a book that explores forbidden passion as well as the frail fabric between reality and the fantasies we sometimes wish we had instead. It is a novel about what happens when you get everything you want and find out that the only thing that can take it from you is yourself.
Evelyn’s character drives this book for me. Her secrets and tendency to violence lay just under the surface and she is losing the ability to control it. She wavers between the woman she is and the girl she use to be. She is so well written that I found myself rushing through the parts of the novel where she wasn’t present just to get to the next scene she was in.
A very good read.