DECONSTRUCTING A FAMILIAL LANDSCAPE — A REVIEW

When Jane Nelson seemingly spins out of control one day and drowns her son Simon, and attempts to drown his twin sister Sarah, her husband Tom, a professor, is blindsided. And then, once Jane’s trial has ended, and she is charged with insanity, Tom faces charges of “failure to protect.”

As his attorney prepares Tom for trial, they begin building a defense based on the complexities of nature and nurture, hoping to uncover the precursors to Jane’s condition, while at the same time, showing that there was no way that Tom could have foreseen the tragic events, or how anyone could have predicted Jane’s behavior.

The title of the book JANEOLOGY could describe the very process of investigation via retrocognition, in that it deconstructs the genetic/psychological landscape of Jane’s ancestry, beginning with her mother, Victoria, who was murdered, leaving Jane motherless at age ten.

This unique exploration into the precursors of Jane’s behavior was a fascinating trip via a psychic Mariah, who is a relative of Jane’s. Through objects in an old trunk, Mariah takes the reader (and Tom) back, showing us a history of mental illness, abuse, and violence. In Jane’s immediate family of origin, she lost her father to divorce early on, and she was left with a sociopathic mother who used men and her daughter to satisfy her own needs. Her mother’s murder when she was just ten could have planted the final seeds that led to the tragedy.

But as the attorney has pointed out, many people have terrible childhoods and do not grow up to murder their children. What set Jane apart? Therefore, while examining the many layers of familial history might seem like “overkill,” instead they show us that the inbred violence in her history was like a ticking time bomb.

An interesting “epilogue” fast-forwards to give us a glimpse of Sarah’s future.

As I closed the final pages of this unique suspense tale, I was reminded of my own history as a social worker who dealt with many of these issues in my daily life. Evaluations by therapists and studies of the family dynamics led us to our conclusions. Harrington’s approach is unique and fascinating and makes for an interesting story. There were parts of the historic study that were lengthy and rambling, leading us far astray of the legal situation in which the father found himself. In the end, we were left with as many questions as answers. Four stars.


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