Personal tragedy meets the tragedy of our time in Roe’s winning debut novel.
A girl falls down a well, captures national attention and is saved. A boy survives a tsunami. What happens to such people? Roe builds to a mournful answer: They make lists. They live, and then, like but not like the rest of us, they die. In the case of young Anabelle Vincent, death was part of the bargain from the moment she slipped into a coma—and into the international spotlight. Just as every unhappy family is different in its unhappiness, per Tolstoy, so Anabelle’s is always on the verge of implosion: “You leave a family once,” writes Roe, wisely. “But then you leave them every day after that, too.” Mom, who’s “always felt an allegiance to the place where she’s from, even if there isn’t much there,” may share Dad’s desperation, but there’s nothing like a crisis to bring people together. And as for Anabelle, well, she’s always been an enigma, and now, unconscious, even more so. What’s happening behind those closed eyes? The world conjectures, and waits, the event of Anabelle’s slipping into a different reality providing the excuse for all kinds of questers—women whose daughters are lying ill with cancer, fathers with children fighting overseas—and for all kinds of cads and quacks. Roe’s story, with its careful unfolding, looks behind the psychology of the “victim soul” to examine why it is that needful people crave miracles in the first place; it’s an old question, and writers as diverse as Chaucer and Flannery O’Connor have had their go at it, putting him in good company. But though an old question, Roe’s story feels just right for our desperate and despairing time, when a miracle—any miracle—will do, and when Anabelle may have been better off, after all, not to know what was going on on this side of the curtain.
Lively, pitch-perfect and assured. Readers will be wanting to hear more from this writer.