A novice psychotherapist finds unsettling parallels between a patient’s suicide and her mother’s history, in Barry’s second (The Lace Reader, 2008).
Hepzibah (Zee for short) was named after a Hawthorne character by her father, Finch, a professor who’s obsessed with the transcendentalist author. Her mother Maureen committed suicide by taking strychnine, after a long battle with manic-depression, exacerbated by Finch’s closeted homosexuality and his attraction to the man he nicknamed Melville. Maureen had longed for a star-crossed love, and she left behind an unfinished fairy tale about Purveyance, wife of a Salem sea captain, who, with her soul mate, a lowly sailor, escaped her husband’s brutality. (Zee grew up in the historic Salem home that was once Purveyance’s domestic prison.) Now a doctoral candidate in Boston, Zee sees aspects of Maureen in her bipolar patient Lilly, a suburban homemaker. Lilly tells her of Adam, a carpenter, whom she loves desperately, but who now appears to be stalking them both—Zee’s seen him lurking outside her office. With adjusted meds, Lilly improves, but then leaps to her death from a bridge during rush hour. At Lilly’s funeral, Zee spots a man she recognizes from TV news as a distraught eyewitness to Lilly’s death. More personal woes intrude. Finch’s Parkinson’s disease is worsening, he’s now alienated from Melville (his partner since Maureen’s death) and requires full-time care. Zee returns to Salem, and this town of Wicca practitioners, pirate re-enactors and tall ships, like Friendship, a replica of the vessel on which Purveyance fled, reclaims her. Hawk, the stricken eyewitness, is now crewing on the Friendship and, when Zee enrolls in his celestial navigation class, she’s ineffably drawn to him. Soon the pair are making love in Maureen’s room, beneath the same widow’s walk on which the storied lovers once trysted. Although marred by unnecessary “come-to-realize” moments, this woman-in-jeopardy thriller retooled with gothic elements—shifting identities, secrets and portents, a deserted cottage and a missing suicide note—manages to transcend its component clichés.
A highly readable sophomore effort.