Hold Still

For her first novel, Columbia University writing instructor Lynn Steger Strong has penned a heartbreaking portrait of a dysfunctional family unraveling under the weight of failed expectations. They are unable to cope and hold the pieces of their lives together in the face of personal destruction. 

The story opens with a foreboding prologue in which Maya rescues her eight-year-old daughter, Ellie, from an incoming wave, and Ellie responds, "Ma, I'm fine." What has transpired since that beach trip has torn the family apart: Maya's alternating displays of smothering affection and total neglect have left her family walking on eggshells, resulting in Ellie's teenage rebellion and subsequent descent into addiction. By 2011, Maya has sent the 20-year-old recovering addict Ellie to care for a friend's child, who dies as a result of a terrible mistake. And in 2013, Maya has now escaped into her books; her philosophy professor husband, Stephen, avoids any mention of their daughter. Meanwhile their son, Ben, harboring guilt for his sister's actions, drops out of college, struggling with Stephen's disappointment and his family's emotional disintegration. Their collective fear of confronting their own demons prompts life-changing consequences.

Blame and guilt circle each other in an endless loop of suffering. Hold Still is a metaphor for not being able to break beyond past grief to live in the present. It is "about the impossibility of communication, the need to turn the abstract into the tangible, how some people cannot achieve this without the help of someone else," and the consequences that come from seeking comfort in things farthest from the heart. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

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