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'Nickles' worth every penny

Dissociation is defined as a mental process that produces a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions or sense of identity, which is brought on by trauma.

In her debut novel "Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation," Minneapolis-based author Christine Stark deftly creates this state of mind through the use of dizzying, experimental prose that maps the territory of childhood abuse as well as the long, difficult and ultimately redemptive journey to healing.

We meet her protagonist, allegorically named Little Miss So-and-so, when she's 5 years old and already experiencing unspeakable sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Through Stark's stream-of-consciousness writing, we see the world through So-and-so's eyes, lush with imagination and innocent curiosity, punctuated by daily acts of violence, beyond-her-years strength and survival skills, and a parade of adults who, even with best intentions, just add to her exploitation.

We follow her through her teen years and into adulthood as she tries to make sense of a world in which normality has been defined by cruelty and lies. We cheer her through her first tender, painful experience with love and watch her grow into a talented athlete and artist.

Through it all, we're privy to her most intimate thoughts via Stark's astonishing prose.

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This is at times a hard book to read. Like Toni Morrison's "Beloved" or Sapphire's "Push," it lays bare the reality of human suffering. But Stark's inventive, original language achieves something altogether new.

It allows us a glimpse into the perceptive, multidimensional and startlingly rich dissociative mind, in which the past can suddenly seem more real than the present and even the smallest detail can trigger overpowering memories, so that the impossibly hopeful conclusion feels all the more earned and satisfying.

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