A review of Bluff by Lenore Skomal

Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield

by Lenore Skomal
PB: $13.46, E-book: $2.99, ISBN: 13: 978-1478192473

Jude Black is a tortured soul. Living alone in a lakeside cottage, she lives a largely isolated life. Her only true friend, Frances, accepts Jude’s moodiness and need for privacy, so it comes as a shock to learn that forty-year old Jude is pregnant.

‘My biggest fear hovered as I let day after day wind down, finding myself unable to confide in her. My biggest fear was that all the goodness she embraced me with would change once she knew. Because she would have only that one bit of information and nothing more. I couldn’t tell her anything but the blunt truth of the moment. I could not, would not tell her how I got that way.’

Jude’s story begins some weeks after this revelation when she is found broken and dying at the bottom of the bluff near her home. There is little hope for Jude’s survival, but it seems her unborn child has a good chance of making it to term. For the next several months a conscious Jude is trapped within her unresponsive body awaiting the birth and mulling over the choices she’s made.

‘Suddenly everything bursts into bright flames. Like Icarus, I fall down, down, down, careening into a frightening death dive. With a deep thud, I hit something hard, jagged and solid. I tumble. Again, then again. Searing pain rips through my legs.’

Lenore Skomal uses Bluff as a platform to raise a number of thought-provoking questions about all the big issues: life, death, family, friendship, faith—and more. Paradoxically, it is only as she is dying that Jude is able to fully understand the meaning of life.

‘And in that moment, I was Jude again. The complete Jude. In that Lazarus moment, I took myself back—spirit, heart and soul. And now I could be at peace.’

I understand what the author wanted to achieve with this title and feel that for the most part she has done a good job of it. However, I found that much of the impact of Jude’s heart-felt story—which is the reason why readers will pick this book up—is weakened because Skomal has chosen to tell not just Jude’s, but every other character’s story as well. I counted twelve viewpoint characters—four in the first twenty-five pages—including two detectives, three medicos, a nun and Jude’s lawyer’s secretary. While all these switches in viewpoint aren’t confusing, they do have the effect of emotionally distancing the reader from Jude. Naturally others are affected by Jude’s situation, but this is primarily her story and I would have liked to have spent a little more time in her head. Despite this, Bluff is an intriguing read that will stay with readers for some time after the final page is turned.

Readers’ discussion questions and author Q&A are welcome inclusions at the back of this title. Bluff was born from Skomal’s own experience sitting at her gravely ill mother’s bedside, and the frustration, fear and hope all come through in her writing. To her credit, she hasn’t only drawn on this experience in writing Bluff, but has enlisted the advice of health, religious and legal professionals, all of whom are acknowledged.

Jenny Mounfield is the author of four books for children and YAs and several short stories, one of which, Space Junk, appears in Ford Street Publishing’s anthology, Trust Me Too, which was selected for The White Ravens 2013. Her first novel for adults, The Unforgetting, is available from the Kindle store.