In this novel, a woman and her niece recount the trials and tribulations of their love lives and the ways that they rely on each other for love and support.
First-time author Lance uses alternating perspectives to tell the story of Aunt Lea and her niece, Annie—two strong, complex women who suffer much in their quests for happiness. Rather than proceeding in straightforward, chronological order, each chapter uses a stream-of-consciousness style. Headstrong Annie, after a difficult childhood, falls into an abusive marriage with Ezra, with whom she has four children. She then spends several harrowing years trying to escape him. He frequently harasses her as she attempts to move on and embark on new romantic relationships. Eventually, she and her children move in with her Aunt Lea in what Annie affectionately terms “the va-j-j house,” a place of female friendship and sanctity. Lea is a remarkable source of stability and comfort for Annie, unlike anyone else in her life, but Lea also has her own complicated story, mostly revolving around her son, Beau, who has Asperger’s syndrome. As an adult, he’s terribly mistreated by the criminal justice system, and Lea tries to advocate on his behalf. Together, the two women carve out an oasis for each other as they overcome obstacles in their lives. Lance presents an intriguing, inspiring story idea here, and the two characters at the center of her novel are compelling and winning. However, her choice to tell their story in a nonlinear way makes it difficult to figure out when and where specific events take place. There are also too many wandering philosophical asides, including lines such as, “When ya discern, ya do a lot more n’ judge, n’ yer way more likely to come up wise,” which detract from the narrative momentum. The author would have done better to let the plot and characters speak for themselves, rather than filling up the somewhat lengthy novel with extended observations about mindfulness.
A heartfelt but uneven fiction debut.