By George B. Kauffman
Kylie’s Heel by Susan K. Perry, Humanist Press, 1777 T St., NW, Washington, DC, Aug. 15, 2013, 249 pp., $10.99. ISBN 978- 0-931779-33-6.
Kylie’s Heel is a captivating and compassionate novel about love, loss and renewal exploring how a nonbeliever copes with tragedy without a god, church or religion to fall back upon. The book slowly builds tension and explores both the joys and difficulties of living life as a rational human being.
Perry’s fiction has an honesty that breaks down the barrier between reader and narrator that sometimes gets in the way of getting immersed in a story. At turns darkly funny, startlingly sensual and haunting, Kylie’s Heel has a style that completely absorbs the reader. It is deeply emotional and full of psychological insight, without being melodramatic.
Written in an engaging and suspenseful manner by an author well-versed in psychology, the book is narrated in the first person so the reader gets an inside view of how she copes with anxiety, stress, love and personal relationships in such a way that he or she can identify with her struggles.
It is especially appropriate for people experiencing loss or separation. Its power slowly builds into a crescendo of insight. It explores the gulf that can grow between head and heart, reminding us that rationality—with all its clarity—does not protect us against loss.
When “A Rational Woman” columnist Kylie Moran’s religious sister takes Kylie’s son to Africa on a medical mission, Kylie fears for his safety. Developments across the globe threaten all that she holds dear. This book deals with a rational woman coping with an irrational world in an emotional journey.
Parents never really heal after the loss of a child, and a child dying before a parent is the most painful type of loss that we can endure. While Kylie’s Heel is a work of fiction, the story will resonate with any reader who is encountering loss. It is a compelling and fast-moving debut novel, especially during the second half of the book.
One of the many things that make this real-life novel unique is the fact that it has been written by a psychologist who truly understands the workings of the human psyche and offers her knowledge and wisdom to the reader. Furthermore, to mitigate the intensity of the story and offer other perspectives, the protagonist is also a newspaper advice columnist who readers write to, in the same way, “Dear Abby” was years ago, except here she is known as “Rational Woman.”
The novel is interspersed with questions posed by her readers and the protagonist’s response to them. This is actually a brilliant device to distract both the reader and the protagonist from the intensity of the loss.
In one instance, a reader asks advice on how to respond to his sense of loss for his childhood and the games associated with it. The protagonist’s wise response: “Life is a series of losses. The mindful person peels away layer after layer of illusion ’til there is only essence left. You may be bemoaning your loss of innocence most of all. You get one time around, and counting on being able to play with your toys, in the same way, is a sure route to disappointment.”
In dealing with her own loss and any cure for fear as it pertains to the story, the protagonist deftly states, “Keep confronting what you most dread, thus making the threat familiar enough to lose its power.” These words of wisdom offer the reader, even more, to walk away with when they put down this novel. In tapping into her experience as a psychologist, Perry successfully offers general guidelines, tips and inspirations for living that resonate with all of us.
Perry writes in a particular style, which is not flowery, but at the same time is not stark— a middle ground of exposition given through the characters instead of a separate plotting device. The reader understands the emotions of the central character, the titular Kylie, as she deals with her everyday life getting completely turned upside down by situations that she is unable to control. It is that lesson of what she can and cannot control that makes for the fundamental conflict of the novel.
There are elements of religious beliefs, cultural differences and conflicting priorities all present in the continuing storyline, all of which are deftly threaded through and webbed together to make for a complete tale.
About the Book Author
Susan K. Perry has enjoyed writing her whole life, but this is her first novel. She began professionally by sending in a tip to a women’s magazine and receiving $3 in stamps as payment. While her sons were in school, she wrote heartfelt essays about raising them. Eventually, she expanded her topics to cover anything the Los Angeles Times and regional magazines would pay for.
As her passions coalesced into psychological subjects, she went back to school for a Ph.D. and began writing books. Playing Smart, Writing in Flow and Loving in Flow are among her most popular. She also blogs about “Creating in Flow” on Psychology Today’s Web site and about humanism as “A Rational Woman” at The-Brights.net, as well as offering love advice online for Netscape.
She is married to the poet Stephen Perry. For further information on her and her work, visit BunnyApe.com.
George B. Kauffman, Ph.D., chemistry professor emeritus at Fresno State and a Guggenheim Fellow, is a recipient of the American Chemical Society’s George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, the Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach and the Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution, and numerous domestic and international honors. In 2002 and 2011, he was appointed a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society, respectively