“Hieroglyphics” Book Review

There are some really wonderful books that are told from varying perspectives where everything gets tied together in the end. Unfortunately, “Hieroglyphics” is not one of them. I kept waiting for the moment when I would feel the threads of grief and loss unite the characters and their journeys. But that moment never arrived for me.

Jill McCorkle’s novel is told from four points of view: Frank, a man whose life was turned upside down when his father died in a train accident when he was still just a boy; his wife, Lil, who similarly lost her mother in the famous Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in the 1940s; Shelley, a young mother living in the home Frank used to reside in; and Harvey, Shelley’s little boy whose imagination (and obsession with serial killers) often gets him in trouble. Most of the story is pretty straightforward and most of it is told in accounts of events that happened in the past. But Lil’s story is relayed through notes she’s left for her children and her journals. With this choice, the action of the story jumps around quite a bit through many different decades, which made the plot feel disjointed to me.

My main issue is that I never felt a steady tie that made these character’s stories feel relevant to each other. It was never clear to me why Shelley and Harvey’s stories even belonged in the same book as Frank and Lil’s. There were so many jumps in time that made it difficult to follow along. This form of storytelling was even more disappointing when I got to the end of the book and there were still so many unanswered questions in my mind. There was also a weird quirk where random bits of information were mentioned multiple times – I couldn’t tell whether these repetitive parts were a stylistic choice or just mistakes.

The part of the novel that felt the strongest (and most interesting) to me were the accounts of the deaths of Frank and Lil’s parents. Because both of the events actually happened (the nightclub fire and the train accident), the moments being described felt authentic and intriguing. I almost wish the book had focused solely on these two children and what they experienced rather than what they were like as married adults.

I wanted so badly to love this novel. It’s totally possible that I just missed the symbolism and broader themes that were meant to be there. But, nevertheless, I won’t be raving about this one to anyone.

2.5 stars

*Free ARC provided by Algonquin Books in exchange for an honest review*

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