When I received The Kindness in the mail, I wasn’t immediately drawn to it based on the cover or synopsis. I’ll admit that it took me reading Samson’s bio (included with the ARC) and learning that she is married to David Gilmour of Pink Floyd before I thought, “Ok, let’s see what you’ve got.”
The Kindness by Polly Samson
Then, of course, by the end of the first section, I was hooked.
Samson weaves the story of Julia and Julian through the four sections of The Kindness, and she does so by way of lyrical prose. The line that first struck me was about Julian falling in love with Julia:
He couldn’t stop thinking about her. He remembered the leap of his heart the moment he saw her, all sorts of less poetic places leapt too. Kidneys, stomach, gall bladder, bowel. The shape of his love was littered with organs.”
For me, the last line of that quote depicted the visceral feeling that love can sometimes be—both in a positive and negative way. As the story progressed, I learned that Julian indeed felt everything that way: the shape of his love, joy—and grief and despair—were littered with organs.
The story itself is of Julia, Julian, and their daughter Mira. First we learn what it cost Julia and Julian to be together, and then what it cost them to be apart. Throughout the story (which is told in four sections and spans over twenty years), Samson lays bare the reality of marriage and family life—the defining moments, yet also the small ones that make up the everyday. She weaves flashback into present artfully, touching on the concept that what has made us who we are is never far away, and her use of imagery was, at times, stunning. I felt as though she meted out the details of the story in a perfectly measured way, revealing just enough to keep me turning the page, before ultimately delivering a blow that illuminated the irony of the novel’s title.
The Kindness is Samson’s second novel. Her first book, Perfect Lives, a collection of short stories, was published in 2011.