Summary: Jane, a loving mother of two, has drowned her toddler son and is charged with his murder in this powerful examination of love, loss, and family legacy. When a prosecutor decides Jane’s husband Tom is partially to blame for the death and charges him with “failure to protect,” Tom’s attorney proposes a radical defense. He plans to create reasonable doubt about his client’s alleged guilt by showing that Jane’s genealogy is the cause of her violence, and that she inherited her latent violence in the same way she might inherit a talent for music or a predisposition to disease. -- Kunati Books
Over the past few months, I have seen JANEOLOGY by Karen Harrington reviewed on various blogs. Most of the reviews were very positive, and I thought the premise of the book sounded very interesting -- I added it to my "Need to Read" list. Much to my surprise (and pleasure), Ms. Harrington contacted me a few weeks ago and asked if I would like to read her novel. Of course, I agreed -- how could I say no?
I found this book to be intriguing! I read it very quickly (it was a relatively short book at 246 pages), but I think the main reason was that the author did a very good job of telling the story and luring me in right from the start. Of course, I am still amazed anytime I hear a story about a mother killing her own children. So a book that tries to explain a mother's mental condition definitely interested me. However, I was even more fascinated by the effects of the crime on Tom, Jane's husband.
On one hand, I was shocked that our legal system could charge the husband/father with a crime for basically "not stopping" his wife from killing her children. But, on the other hand, how could you live with someone and have no idea what anguish your wife was feeling? I'm not exactly sure what I thought about Tom, but I know that I did feel so much pity for him for losing his child (and for all intents and purposes his wife.) I think Ms. Harrington did an excellent job of developing Tom's characters and the guilt he was dealing with over his wife's crime.
I guess this book is technically considered a legal thriller, but there really is so much more to it. I thought it was more of a novel about family dynamics with lots of psychological insight thrown in. There was also a psychic/paranormal aspect to this story. One of Jane's relatives was able to "see the past" by touching some items that were found in an old trunk. Usually, I'm not a huge fan of paranormal books; however, I had no problems "accepting" it in this book and I actually thought it moved the story along rather well.
Ms. Harrington has a wonderful website devoted to her books as well her own blog. In addition to JANEOLOGY, she has also written a children's book that looks adorable. It's called THERE'S A DOG IN MY DOORWAY, and it was written for Dr. Laura Schlessinger's Foundation "My Stuff Bags." Ms. Harrington has been recognized by the Hemingway Short Story Competition and the Texas Film Institute. I thoroughly enjoyed her story as well as her writing style, and I look forward to her future novels.
One thing that I liked about the website was the section on "About JANEOLOGY." There is a brief summary of the book, but there is also a genealogy chart of Jane's family. Since the book goes back in time and tells the story of many of Jane's relatives, I found this graph to be very helpful. I also found Ms. Harrington's story behind her novel to be fascinating! Because the author never knew any of her grandparents, she was extremely curious about her ancestors. Her curiosity about her past , as well as her research on her ancestors, was what inspired her to write this book.
This book definitely made me think -- a lot! And, I'm pretty sure that's what Ms. Harrington intended to do with this book. As I learned more about Jane's upbringing as well as her ancestors, I did find myself feeling sorry for her on more than one occasion. I can never excuse a mother for killing her own children. But I did find myself questioning whether she was "programmed" by both her upbringing and her genes to have a predisposition to this type of irrational behavior. That brings to mind another issue for me -- if certain people are predisposed to commit these horrendous crimes (for whatever reason), how can some of them overcome this type of behavior? There are certainly lots of "normal" individuals in our society who have had awful childhoods (as well as relatives with questionable personalities) who don't kill their children.
This book definitely will cause readers to examine their own ideas about the nature vs. nurture debate. As a result, I think it would make an excellent book club discussion book! I'm sure that everyone who reads this book will have some interesting ideas about Jane and her crime. It would also be very interesting to hear what they think about Tom's role in the crime. I'm guessing JANEOLOGY would make for a very exciting (albeit controversial) discussion!