Review: Agatha Arch Is Afraid of Everything by Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

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Agatha Arch’s life shatters when she discovers her husband in their backyard shed, in flagrante delicto, giving the local dog walker some heavy petting. Suddenly, Agatha finds herself face to face with everything that frightens her…and that’s a loooooong list.

Agatha keeps those she loves close. Everyone else, she keeps as far away as possible. So she’s a mystery to nearly everyone in her New England town. To her husband, she’s a saucy, no-B.S. writer. To her Facebook Moms group, she’s a provocateur. To her neighbor, she’s a standoffish pain in the butt. To her sons, she’s chocolate pudding with marshmallows. And to her shrink, she’s a bundle of nerves on the brink of a cataclysmic implosion.

Defying her abundant assortment of anxieties, Agatha dons her “spy pants”–a pair of khakis whose many pockets she crams with binoculars, fishing line, scissors, flashlight, a Leatherman Super Tool 300 EOD, candy, and other espionage essentials–and sets out to spy on her husband and the dog walker. Along the way, she finds another intriguing target to follow: a mysterious young woman who’s panhandling on the busiest street in town.

It’s all a bit much for timorous Agatha. But with the help of her Bear Grylls bobblehead, a trio of goats, and a dog named Balderdash, Agatha may just find the courage to build a better life.

Source: NetGalley and Alcove Press Rating: 4½/5 stars

Agatha Arch has everything she could have ever dreamed of and hoped for, she has a marriage she is happy with, two sons she adores, and a writing career that is both successful and fulfilling.  What’s more, Agatha’s husband is patient and kind enough to accept her eccentricities and shield her from the things that frighten her.  The list of what frightens Agatha is long and extensive, but her family accepts and loves her, nonetheless.

To think her world would ever come crashing down is as foreign to Agatha as getting over her prodigious list of fears.  Yes, Agatha is comfortable in her existence and sees no reason for any part of it to change.  And then, one day Agatha stumbles across her beloved husband banging the local dog walker in the shed.  As if the infidelity weren’t enough, the dog walker’s last name is Bean and Agatha is terrified of beans.  For the first time in her adult life, Agatha Arch finds herself completely alone and unsure of how to move forward with her life. 

Because she is full of good ideas, Agatha decides on a course that is both self-destructive and borderline illegal.  First, she destroys the shed in her backyard, then she increases her visits with her therapist (Shrinky Dink!), and then she begins to obsess over her husband’s new life.  Obsessing over her husband’s new life means Agatha needs to do some research on stealth recon.  In short order, Agatha buys a ton of spy equipment and learns how to use a camera-equipped drone from a kid in the local park.  Spying on her ex-husband and his new squeeze isn’t the healthiest of plans, but it is all Agatha has.  What she sees is a blissful new life that even her boys seem to be enjoying. 

In Agatha’s spare time, she delights in pissing off people through her thoroughly blunt and brutally honest posts on the community Facebook page.  All but one woman seems to steer clear of Agatha and that one woman is determined to befriend Agatha and help her change her ways.  Agatha is completely confused by the woman’s motives and in typical Agatha fashion does all she can to push the do-gooder away.  Fortunately for Agatha, there are people in the world just as stubborn as she is.  Unfortunately for Agatha, her means and methods are attracting attention and it isn’t the good kind.

The Bottom Line: Yet again, I am totally befuddled by the Goodreads rating for a book.  I found Agatha Arch to be a totally refreshing read and one that I had a hard time putting down.  Agatha is such a broken individual and without the life-altering events brought on by her husband’s infidelity, she would have continued to live her life in the same way.  Without the crutch of her husband and his enabling ways, Agatha is finally free to deal with her issues and forge a new path for herself.  Though her means and methods are completely unorthodox, Agatha does as she always has done and that’s her way or no way.  I found this book to be heartfelt, trying, hilarious, troubling, and wonderfully original.  I can’t say I’ve felt that way about a lot of books given how many I read and have read so it is nice when I come across something like Agatha Arch that blows fresh air my way.

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