Wednesday 3 April 2024

Review by Sally Shaw of "The Dark Within Them" by Isabelle Kenyon

The Dark Within Them is a novel by Isabelle Kenyon, a Manchester-based editor, writer, poet and spoken word performer. 

The novel is set in America within a Mormon community. The story is told from the viewpoint of the two main characters: Chad, well known in his home town of Lehi, and Amber, a faith-healer and visionary, who is widowed and mother to two teenagers Gilly and Ivan. Kenyon gives the reader an insight into both characters' inner thoughts and emotions. The story is fast paced, taking place from their first meeting in January 2015 to June 2015 when truths are uncovered and lessons learnt. I enjoyed the chapter lengths and access to the different mind sets of Chad and Amber. 

The story begins several months into Chad and Amber’s relationship at a Temple meeting. Chad is realising the complexity of being married and a stepfather. As a reader this chapter caused me to consider how Mormon beliefs and community could impact family live. Brett is the leader of the temple and the person Chad absolutely trusts. Chad asks for help with Gilly. "Gilly’s fifteen. Young. She’s … she’s mostly a good kid. Anything bad in her? It didn’t come from her mothering. That’s not to blame." The outcome is that Brett recommends his conversion therapy that isn’t practised at other temples. The interaction between Brett and Gilly is the catalyst to the death of Gilly. And Chad’s actions following her death are fuelled by the temple and community morals. Amber questions Chad following Gilly’s death: "'Was she possessed, Chad?' she said into his damp neck. 'Was my girl bad?'”  

Following Gilly’s death, Amber and Chad enter into a life of deceit and lies. Amber gains strength from the need to protect her son. Chad’s actions are powered by his Mormon values and devotion to Brett, while Ivan trusts no-one and his actions are perceived by Chad in a way neither he or his mother could have predicted. 

The story explores the impact on relationships of past experiences, upbringing, hidden agendas, resentment, religion, community and the unveiling of the characters' truth. Both Amber and Chad become unsure of each other and their marriage which changes the course of their lives.

The Dark Within Them is a novel that is easy to read. I enjoyed how Kenyon structured the chapters to move back in time and then back to the present, and the strength of Amber’s voice at the end of the novel. I found myself questioning Amber’s decision to actively seek out a husband. I was unsure why she choose not to have her children meet Chad in person prior to their move to his home. I did think some aspects of the plot were too far removed from reality for me. Still, the novel gives us an insight into the intricacy of relationships within a family, community and religion. It provides the reader with twists and turns and a strong ending.

About the reviewer
Sally Shaw has an MA Creative Writing from the University of Leicester. She writes short stories and is currently working on her novel based in 1950s Liverpool. She sometimes writes poetry. She gains inspiration from old photographs, history, her own childhood memories, and is inspired by writers Sandra Cisneros, Deborah Morgan, Liz Berry and Emily Dickinson. She has had short stories and poetry published in various online publications, including The Ink Pantry and AnotherNorth and in a ebook anthology Tales from Garden Street (Comma Press Short Story Course book, 2019). Sally lives in the countryside with her partner, dog, and bantam. Twitter: @SallySh24367017

You can read more about The Dark Within Them by Isabelle Kenyon on Creative Writing at Leicester here

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