on Aug. 5, 2014 :
Brilliantly creepy fractured fairytale, dark and compelling- 5 Stars
Timothy Patrick's TEA CUPS & TIGER CLAWS is a fractured fairytale, a darkly funny parable about haves and have-nots, takers and givers, and what it's like to live in the shadow of great mansions on the Hill. The story is divided into three parts. The first revolves around three identical triplet sisters born to a white trash mother and her alcoholic loser husband living in a garbage-littered dump. Two of the babies - Abigail and Judith - are adopted by "the Duchess," who lives in one of the town's two palatial Victorian mansions; the third sister - Dorthea - grows up in poverty with her parents in a run-down shack, with little hope of anything better. Abbey and Judith become young ladies living in the lap of luxury, while Dorthea learns the lesson her parents teach her - "when love isn't an option, sometimes the next best thing is hate." She vows to get revenge on her sisters, the Duchess, and the Newfields who live in Sunny Slope Manor, the grandest estate in town.
In the second part of the story, the focus shifts to the second generation, as Abbey's daughter Sarah, Judith's daughter Veronica, and Dorthea's adopted son Ernest become pawns in Dorthea's continuing quest for vengeance. And by the third act, these enemies play out their diabolical and twisted roles as Dorthea moves to rid herself of all of them, taking what she's wanted all along - Sunny Slope Manor for her own.
At its heart, this is a novel about human depravity, and our very American fixation with wealth, power, and social standing. Patrick's convoluted saga spans over sixty years, with Dorthea's simmering hatred fueling the action. In another writer's hands, this story could have played out like an American Cinderella story, with poor Dorthea left behind as her sisters become wealthy and powerful. But Dorthea is hardly sympathetic, and she's no Cinderella. Although she's smart enough and cagey enough to manipulate her way into a fortune of her own, it can never give her what she really wants - the status of her sisters, and the right to live on the Hill with the "old money" crowd. Her bitterness is reminiscent of Dickens' Miss Haversham, who uses her ward Estella in a twisted plot against the hapless Pip, or perhaps Bronte's Heathcliff, who works to destroy not only the people he believes have betrayed him but their children as well (including his own son). As skillfully as Dickens or Bronte, Patrick brilliantly illustrates the results of allowing hatred and a thirst for vengeance to direct the course of one's life.
TEA CUPS & TIGER CLAWS is a beautifully written novel, with a sharply satiric style that works to propel the saga of these characters from twisted fairytale to morality play, without ever once getting preachy. There are characters here to root for - Sarah, for one, who manages somehow to rise above the craziness of her family and the town she lives in - and others to despise (including the noxious Veronica, who would give Roald Dahl's Veruca Salt a run for her money in the spoiled brat department!). And the town Patrick has invented, with its mansions on the Hill (the Hill the working classes are always gazing up at with awe and envy), is totally believable, even in its stereotypical familiarity. The rich are always envied, the poor are always bitter, and hatred really is easier to latch onto than love when the good life seems so very far away. This is a smart and savvy novel that will draw readers in from its first page. I highly recommend it.
[Please note: I was provided a copy of this novel for review; the opinions expressed here are my own.]
(reviewed the day of purchase)