In Lischke’s debut novel, the lives of two women seem mysteriously linked across the century that separates them.
Jane Eliot is a young married woman coping as best she can with a few frustrations. A strange palsy has afflicted her right hand, largely preventing her from pursuing her love of drawing. Also, she and her CPA husband, David, are childless; Jane previously had two miscarriages and is beginning to despair of ever having a baby of her own. Almost equally unnerving are the vivid dreams that Jane keeps having: glimpses from the life of a 19th-century woman named Elizabeth Brewer. She’s a wealthy mother of five who volunteers her time to teach at a gritty city workhouse, partly out of altruism and partly out of a fascination she feels for the workhouse master, Jordan Locke. At first, Jane is more bemused than alarmed by these recurring dreams, until they begin intruding on her waking life. As the intense visions grow in clarity, Jane becomes frustrated to the point of fear (“ ‘What in the name of God do you want?’ she shouted. That was the way to address a ghost. A ghost in my head?”). Lischke adroitly handles the tension between the two eras of her story, shifting from Jane’s world to Elizabeth’s and back again at key dramatic moments. The events of Elizabeth’s life provide Jane with insights into everything from her marriage to her miscarriages. Lischke excels at creating believable dialogue between Jane and her friends and evoking atmospheric period details of Elizabeth’s existence, including descriptions of the squalid workhouse and the inmates there, some of whom refuse to yield to despair. The past-lives hypnosis and “regression” therapy toward the novel’s climax may strike some readers as a trifle pat, but the drama as a whole is entirely convincing.
An intriguing, well-constructed story that follows two kindred souls across the decades.