Without Condition by Sonora Taylor
Publisher: Self-Published | Release Date: Feb. 7, 2019 | Pages: 222 pages
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Without Condition by Sonora Taylor takes a look into the disturbed, twisted mind of a serial killer. And a female serial killer nonetheless. The reader gets a detailed understanding about why the protagonist has become what she has become, and what challenges come with the way she deals with her demons. This is not a horror story, but a somber and sobering look at how bullying and abuse can shape a destiny and the deadly consequences of unconditional love.
Cara Vineyard lives on a pumpkin farm with her mother in rural North Carolina. She works for a new brewing company as a truck driver. Cara's quiet, boring life is brightened when she meets Jackson Price, a pharmacist in Raleigh. As they spend more and more time together, Cara realizes she is falling in love with Jackson-which in turn makes her life more complicated. When Cara goes out on her late-night drives for the brewery, she often picks up men. And those men tend to die. When she comes home every night from one of these drives, she gives her Mother a memento from her latest victim, which her Mother proudly displays on a wall full of other trinkets Cara has brought home to her. Cara's Mother is proud of her and loves her no matter what. But will Jackson feel the same way? Cara's Mother doesn't want to find out.
So I have to say, I absolutely loved this book! It was incredibly interesting to have a female serial killer as a protagonist! The reader doesn't just get to see Cara killing people, she's not some deranged murderer on the loose. Instead, we get a very detailed backstory on Cara and her Mother, and it gives the reader a full understanding as to why Cara does what she does. We may not agree with it, but we empathize with her and feel her heartache from all of the trauma she has had to endure.
Taylor’s character building in Without Condition is 100% on point. She created an empathetic, likable serial killer. Not an easy task, but expertly done. Without going into spoiler territory, we are allowed to witness how Cara is treated by her peers from Kindergarten on up. And the older she gets, the worse the abuse and betrayal gets. Cara is full to the brim with rage, heartbreak and hate. But then she finds an outlet to let go of all of these burdens that she has been holding inside for so long and has been building for so many years. The truck driving job gives Cara the opening she needs and exacts her revenge on unsuspecting males looking for a ride. Now, is this a healthy way to deal with trauma? No. Most of us (hopefully) would go to a therapist or do yoga, maybe join a kickboxing class. But for Cara, it's going full Michael Myers on men she picks up on her nightly drives. And even though this is not how the majority of us would handle such issues, we totally get why she chose this avenue and are behind her! Hell, I found myself rooting for her, and then I had to stop and ask myself some hard questions! But that's what great character building can do!
Most of the beginning and end of Without Condition is full of Cara’s “therapy”, but Taylor changes the script in the middle section of the novel. Taylor turns from full on slasher mode to romance. Butterflies in the stomach, etc., and something I'm not a fan of. She sets her sights on Cara's budding relationship with Jackson. When the novel began to take this route I felt the novel was ruined. There go all those stars I was going to give this book. But I kept reading and realized the author did something rather brilliant. As I continued to read questions started popping up in my mind- What if this relationship gets serious? What if Cara has to quit her job as a driver to be with Jackson? How will Cara handle her rage? What if Jackson finds out? How will he react? How will Cara react to Jackson to Jackson's reaction? All of these questions and dim possibilities of where this relationship I'm now invested in could go kept bubbling up in my mind and then Boom! I realized what Taylor was doing. She's asking the question- What happens when a serial killer falls in love? Again, I'm now invested in the relationship between Cara and Jackson, and even though I like and care about Cara, I'm all of a sudden afraid for Jackson. One wrong move and Cara could be triggered and hurt him. Or is her love for Jackson stronger than her deep seeded hatred for the past?
Before I wrap this up, I have to comment on the other important character in this story, Cara's Mother. This woman is definitely odd. Keeping a trophy wall of her daughter's kills? Creepy is an understatement. However, as much as we want to damn her Mother for allowing this behavior, or not reporting her daughter to the police, we have to realize she is psychologically damaged as well. Maybe she understands what Cara has gone through more than we know. And she has seen the hurt her daughter has experienced throughout her life, and her empathy and unconditional love for her daughter outweigh any wrong doings Cara could commit-even murder. This is a display of an incredibly unhealthy relationship, and her Mother's unwavering love is not doing Cara any favors. But we do see a glimmer of common sense when Jackson enters the picture. Cara's Mother fears for Jackson because she knows what her daughter is capable of. She likes Jackson and does not want to see him hurt. But will her concern for Jackson's well-being overcome the unconditional love she has for her deeply damaged daughter?
Sonora Taylor has written an unsettling, yet somewhat tender, story of coping with abuse and the hope of being able to truly love and be loved. A tale about a sympathetic serial killer, this novel begs the questions- When does unconditional love cross a deadly line and can love be enough to change a person molded to hate? Is love enough? Is love the answer? The Beatles wrote 'All You Need is Love'. They never read Without Condition.