Kaye Gibbons

Sights Unseen

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From the confused yet loving perspective of young Hattie Barnes, her story is told of a family's valiant search for normalcy in the midst of madness. This poignant, powerful, and critically acclaimed novel by the bestselling author of "Charms for the Easy Life" has been reformatted for trade paperback.

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From the confused yet loving perspective of young Hattie Barnes, her story is told of a family's valiant search for normalcy in the midst of madness. This poignant, powerful, and critically acclaimed novel by the bestselling author of "Charms for the Easy Life" has been reformatted for trade paperback.The bestselling author of "Charms for the Easy Life" reads "her best novel since "Ellen Foster."
Kaye Gibbons' award-winning novels of Southern family life have won rave reviews coast to coast. Now, she tells the "story of family dislocation and crisis in restrained prose of unflinching clarity, with a honing eye for the small domestic details that conjure a time, place and emotional atmosphere." "(Publishers Weekly)"
To the people of Bend of the River Road, Maggie Barnes is "the Barnes woman with all the problems." To her family, she is the unpredictable wife, elusive mother, and adored daughter-in-law, and to her maid, Pearl, she is the mistress who must be cared for like a child.
Between the suicidal lows and delirious highs, young Hattie Barnes struggles to find a place in her mother's heart. She observes her mother's vain attempts at normalcy, and then watches as she is driven off to the hospital psychiatric ward. Only later will Hattie discover the deep-seated hopes and fears of the woman she loves unconditionally, and her inevitable connection to her family's past.
In heartfelt and potent prose, through Hattie's hushed voice, "Sights Unseen" tells the story of a troubled relationship and the courage it takes to see it through.


Series Title
Book Format
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Number of Pages
Kaye Gibbons
Sights Unseen
Publication Date
June, 2005
Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)
8.02 x 5.36 x 0.60 Inches

Customer Reviews

Average Rating:(4.6)out of 5 stars
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Average Rating:(5.0)out of 5 stars

I will pick up all but...

I will pick up all but one of Kaye Gibbons's works, so I can't account for missing this one until now, especially in audiobook. I was particularly attracted to it because one of my book clubs had just read "Saving CeCe Honeycutt," also dealing with a little girl's attempt to handle her mother's mental illness, and I was curious to compare. Much as I liked CeCe, I was quite comfortable not finishing that book. It had already taken me off into too many other worlds, and the lesson CeCe could learn from them was to let her mother's tragic life be the past. Gibbons, I think, met the challenge more effectively and truly by allowing Hattie to speak from maturity and accomplishment -- and from successful, if horrific, treatment of her mother's illness. The focus is not on how Maggie Barnes ruined her daughter's life, even though Hattie knows that her mother rejected her outright as an infant, and throughout her illness showed clear preference for Hattie's older brother. Gibbons instead tells us a story of relationship: Hattie's longing for a true maternal relationship; Maggie's attempts, even from within her illness and particularly by force of will as she recovers, to catch up to the relationships she has missed with all her family members; the ways other family members dealt with the illness, mostly in love, but all as perceived by a little girl who loved them all. In short, what I prefer about "Sights Unseen" is that it celebrates resiliency and hope that do not hinge on loss. For me, that's always a happier ending.

Average Rating:(5.0)out of 5 stars

This is a story, told ...

This is a story, told by a remarkably happy and successful woman, of her childhood growing up under the oppression of two tyrants. Mr. Barnes, her grandfather, is the patriarch of the family and has a "lord of the manor" feudal sense of superiority, entitlement and power. Maggie, her mother suffers with bi-polar mental illness and for most of the book her every thought is about herself. Her family's existence revolves around keeping her as sane or happy or at times just alive as possible. The children want a mother, as all children do, but have to make do with the love and care given by Pearl, their housekeeper. Yet they have money, which is a great aid to all things in life, intellect and books. This is a very accurate depiction of mental illness with a detailed and positive description of electroconvulsive therapy. Recommended to anyone wanting to know more about mental illness and some of the ways it can affect a family

Average Rating:(5.0)out of 5 stars

The first sentence dra...

The first sentence draws you in. Gibbons explores the effects of a mother's mental illness on her family. She's a talented writer; she captures the reader who lets go ever so reluctantly at the end of each novel. Her writing is to be treasured. I had read this book earlier, but the date shown is when my book club discussed it. UPDATED 16May2012 Opening paragraph: Had I known my mother was being given electroconvulsive therapy while I was dressing for school on eight consecutive Monday mornings, I do not think I could have buttoned my blouses or tied my shoes or located my homework. I see myself fumbling with the snap on my skirt, trying to connect the sides, turning around in a circle like a cat chasing its tail. I was twelve, deemed too young to be told what was happening to her and in fact too innocent to surmise it. Hattie narrates this story, which takes place in the late 1950s to mid 1960s, in a small community in North Carolina, where her grandfather is a prominent citizen who can fix just about anything by opening his wallet. There is much in this culture that is left unseen. In deference to his power, no one refers to Maggie (Hattie's mother) as a "lunatic" but as "the woman with all those problems." But more than her mother's mental illness is unseen in this household. People choose not to see the prejudice and hatred regularly displayed by Mr Barnes. Nor do they acknowledge how he spoils Maggie, practically courting her, while ignoring his own son. No one seems to notice how the children are isolated by their mother's illness. In fact, it seems that no one sees anyone else's emotional needs and reactions. I've read nearly all Gibbons's works. She is a talented writer, who is, herself, bi-polar. Her works capture the reader who escapes ever so reluctantly at the end of each novel. Her writing is to be treasured.

Average Rating:(5.0)out of 5 stars

In the minds of the go...

In the minds of the good people of Bend of the River, North Carolina, the exotic Maggie Barnes is 'not right', 'flighty' or, put more politely, 'the Barnes woman with all her problems'. To Maggie's immediate family - her husband Frederick, son Freddy, and young daughter, Hattie - she is a maddening and beloved paradox: quite clearly depressive, yet also a beautiful, generous, satin-clad siren. Maggie is at times vivacious and captivating, but at others she is infuriating, violent and heartless to those who love her. Through Hattie's now adult eyes, a devastatingly poignant portrait of her mother emerges - wry, irresistibly comic yet unsparing in its depiction of a child's despairing love for her mentally disturbed mother. Sights Unseen is also the story of the marvelous extended Barnes family. Each with their own strategies for dealing with the impossible Maggie, the members of the Barnes family struggle to understand her and to preserve a nurturing, loving family relationship with her. I really enjoyed this book, although at certain points I found the story incredibly poignant. Sights Unseen by Kaye Gibbons clearly illustrates how mental illness affects the entire family, however I think that during my reading, I kept expecting the author to branch out more into the community with this story. I ultimately gave Sights Unseen by Kaye Gibbons an A!

Average Rating:(4.0)out of 5 stars

Excellent look at the ...

Excellent look at the affect of bipolar disorder on a family. Well written, with memorable characters and wit

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