Book Review | Five Finger Fiction by Brooks Sigler

Title: Five Finger Fiction

Author: Brooks Sigler

A KLEPTOMANIAC KID who grows up to graduate from an Ivy League university and marry a pal she’s had since grade school should make one heck of a coming-of-age heroine, and she does.

In FIVE FINGER FICTION, Brooks Sigler unwinds a first-person narrative from the point of view of an Irish Catholic parochial school child who develops into a competent and independent adult despite the best efforts of the grown-ups in her life. Lila O’Farrell is a very bright student who resorts to the pilfering of small items as a reaction to the stultifying domination of the teaching nuns, her mother Lynette’s insufferable intrusiveness, and her father’s passivity. She could easily become subsumed by her huge family (all of whose members boast names beginning with as a form of family unity) and her cultural identity, but her ego is strong enough to rebel on some level, even at the tender age of eleven or twelve, against the nitwit authority figures in her purview. Swiping things from others is Lila’s way of exerting some semblance of control over her universe while maintaining a delicate balance: keeping the peace with her mother, studying hard to ensure her own academic future, and exploring life’s mysteries in the ways all adolescents must do if they are to grow and thrive.

On the surface, this story chronologically highlights one girl’s journey to womanhood. The narrative shifts between Lila’s present-day wedding planning and her recountings of various major passages on her road to maturity and commitment. But the action just seethes with frustration and tension when, even at the age of thirty, Lila still holds out hope for appropriate mothering from Lynette: Lila tries to offer her mother love and respect by sharing her wedding preparations, knowing full well that the woman’s predictable insistence on running the show could ruin the wedding for the principal participant, the bride. The reader winces at Lynette’s every manipulative gesture and word, and completely relates to Lila’s need to wriggle out from under, even sympathizing with her compulsion to dump a tray of Lynette’s fancy coasters into her purse; in the clinch, petty theft is a less abhorrent act than punching out one’s mother!

Ms. Sigler is a delightful writer. Many of her remarks and allusions are hilarious, especially those referencing Lila’s more absurd experiences at Our Lady of Mercy. Her tone is consistently matter-of-fact, never allowing emotional adjectives and adverbs to brow-beat the reader into understanding “where she is coming from. The descriptions of the characters behavior, the events, and the results of their admixtures more than speak for themselves. The author’s use of language skillfully conveys the most stinging indictments with irony and charm.

This book is great fun to read, but it is disturbing, as well. Many readers will squirm at the lack of responsible role models in Lila’s life, and feel disgusted at the selfishness, ethical emptiness, and ineptitude of those upon whom the young protagonist is forced by her age and vulnerability to rely. Ultimately, we resent on her behalf the fact that she must wait until she is a senior in college, and emotionally intimate with the young man whom she eventually will marry, to enjoy a mutually honest and caring relationship with another person. We wish for her sake that she had found the means to break her family chains a little earlier in her life.

Nowhere in this novel does Ms. Sigler hint that Lila is modeled after herself in her youth. However, it is tempting to speculate as to whether any of this story might be, in fact, autobiographical. Ms. Sigler has captured young Lila’s emotional life with such devastating clarity that one has to wonder if perhaps she has lived significant portions of it herself. In any case, the book stands out as an essay on the trials and tribulations of Catholic school girls with wacko mothers, as a realistic work of fiction depicting one woman’s determined escape from unfortunate early influences, and as an amusing coming-of-age tale. And oh, by the way: if there were any nuns in Ms. Sigler’s early life, they may have driven her to distraction at the time, but someone, perhaps they, taught her to write!

A hearty THANK YOU! to PublishingWorks, Inc. for providing a review copy of this book.

This review reflects the tastes, perceptions, and opinions of one person only and may be entirely “wrong” from another person’s point of view. Please read the book yourself and decide.

*I received a copy of this book to review but I was not financially compensated in any way. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my observations while reading this novel.*