Title: Out of Touch
Author: Haleh Agar
Publication date: 2 APRIL 2020
Format reviewed: e-ARC
Number of pages: 320
A man hit Ava with his car, a few miles from her bungalow. He brings her flowers in hospital, and offers to do her laundry. He also brings her the letter she dropped that night on the road.
In New York, Ava’s brother Michael receives the same letter. He thinks about it as he steps out of the shower into his curtainless bedroom. A naked woman stares at him from the apartment across. They both laugh and cover up with their arms.
Brother and sister cannot avoid the letter: their estranged father is dying and wants to meet. Can they forgive their father, and face each other after all these years apart? Will new unexpected friends offer the advice and comfort they need?
With sharp wit and sensitivity, Out of Touch is a deeply absorbing story about love and vulnerability, sex and power, and the unbreakable bonds of family.
A sister. A brother. A father. A letter.
If there are as many families are there are m&ms in their factories, Out of Touch drew me in instantly by the sheer force of its authentic and painful take on constantly-evolving relationships.
Let’s rewind a little.
Haleh Agar wins the best first encounter with a main protagonist. When we meet Ava, she’s on the ground, having just been hit by a car. Yet, this is not a dark and grisly scene with body parts bent at weird angles and blood everywhere. No, it’s a painful but weirdly odd and fun – and absolutely genius – key moment in Ava’s life that marks the beginning of something the reader can’t fully understand yet…
Michael, on the other side of the Atlantic, is in a room full of people who wants to share their stories. If he appeared detached from the crowd, his attendance to those events where strangers talk about their life and its issues told me that consciously or not, Michael was looking for answers. My feeling was reinforced when he walked back home to his wife and little son.
Ava and Michael’s lives are polar opposite in appearance, but both siblings have more in common than they think. Their different ways of trying to cope with what childhood left them gave me a clear understanding of their personalities and the author made sure I could relate to parts of their stories, connect to their doubts and feelings, and most of all, care for them.
Unhappiness is a natural part of being alive.
A letter from their father is the big ripple that comes to disturb their days. It is clear that Ava and Michael have suffered from the absence of their dad and a rocky growing-up with their mother. I think only a lucky few can honestly say they’ve had the best childhood, no matter how much our parents have loved us. Haleh Agar’s family tale rings so true that anyone can connect to the story. Laced with a sharp wit and the intricate ways of love, Out of Touch felt familiar throughout, as if it was made of tiny bits from all of us in the world. Crazy but so true, and even more powerful for it.
It comforted him, how dysfunctional the families were in most of the myths: fathers eating their children, children slaying their parents and mothers throwing their sons down mountaintops.
Do you forgive? Do you forget? Can you move on? Parenthood is no easy path and parents are flawed. Children learn and make mistakes, no matter their age. Is there a right way to mend family bonds?
Ava, Michael, and their father haven’t seen each other in years. How do you cross the frail bridge built by a letter?
We are not talking about a ‘hey, how are you?’ missive. No, their father Lee has sent a bomb. He is dying, and he wants to see his children. My personal experience had me feeling conflicted about this, and I love the way the author has handled Ava and Michael’s reactions. A last chance at being a family triggers choices, reopens wounds, and ultimately puts everyone in an uncomfortable seat. In this novel, no one is perfect, but in the end, they all need a nudge to reach the next step in their life. I loved watching them face the shadows of their past. Not everything gets tied up nicely, because nothing in family ever gets this chance.
With a magnificent sensitivity, Haleh Agar paints an eloquent family portrait.
I would like to thank Virginia for inviting me to be part of this amazing blog tour. This review is my unbiased opinion.
Haleh was born and raised with her two sisters in Canada. She left to teach English Literature at international schools in Bahrain, Singapore and most recently London, where she now lives.
Haleh has been published in literary magazines and journals, including Mslexia, Viva Magazine, Fincham Press and Lamplight Magazine. Her short story, ‘Not Contagious’ was Highly Commended by the Costa Short Story Award. She won the Brighton Prize for a piece of flash fiction, and her narrative essay ‘On Writing Ethnic Stories’ won the London Magazine’s inaugural essay competition.