Title: Without Merit
My rating: 4/5
Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.
The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.
Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.
Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.
Coincidentally, after reading this latest Coho, she reveals on her social media that her next book will be released in July – All Your Perfects – the woman is unstoppable. I do feel that this story is quite timely as it covers numerous social and national issues in America.
“Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness” This sums up quite a bit of actions that the main characters choose as each member of the Voss family is guilty of something that adds stress points to the family dynamic – specifically Merit, who is not exempt from mistakes being made. It seemed that the overarching messaging for this family was open communication and honesty. What those honest feelings are about bring it home as relate-able since it seems that the new normal family is actually a dysfunctional/non-traditional one, where relationships within are complicated.
I respect how Hoover normalizes depression, mental health, and therapy – including the rationale for those that are depressed but may be in denial or ignorant of what it can look like. The anger that is felt (plus other emotions) means more than one may think, especially over time and as it affects energy and time in one’s life. We also encounter conversations around sexual identity and the Syrian refugee crisis – both among conversations within the United States and the latter especially around the world. When it comes to experiences that one may not understand or feel that others have it much worse, I cannot echo more this quote that reinforces that it is not a competition when it comes to hurt, anxiety, stress, or any emotion:
“the same two things could happen to two people, but that doesn’t mean they would experience the exact same stress over it. We all have different levels of stress that we’re accustomed to…that doesn’t make you weaker. It doesn’t make you an asshole. We’re just two different people with two different sets of experiences…It annoys me when people try to convince other people that their anger or stress isn’t warranted if someone else in the world is worse off than them. It’s bullshit. Your emotions and reactions are valid, Merit. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. You’re the only one who feels them” (Hoover 338-9)
I think that is something each of us has to own when we are in pain or feel an overwhelming emotion, giving ourselves permission and not trying to hide the way we feel, as that can lead to other challenges in the long run, namely mental health. I applaud CoHo on this brilliant look inside an American family and the bigger themes we can reflect on from the story and characters.