Orphaned artist Eva Merchant, who makes art from discarded doll parts, is herself a fractured being in Keirstead’s debut novel.
After a short opening scene of gun violence between an unnamed man and woman, readers meet a 20-something woman who has just “mastered her nonchalance.” She arrives in a dilapidated building, where she connects with a man named Neil, and they have a tense conversation that reveals that they have an ongoing sexual relationship and that he’s previously given her money. In a series of episodic sequences, including flashbacks, readers learn that the woman, Eva Merchant, met Neil, an English rock star and recovering drug addict, when she was 15; they met at a cafe where Eva and her older sister, Elaine, worked following the death of their parents in a terrorist attack. Neil brings the girls and Eva’s childhood friend, an aspiring musician named Roland, into his band’s wild lifestyle. Elaine drifts away to work for a mysterious business magnate, but Eva remains attached to Neil. As years go by, Roland grows jealous, gets involved in his own terrorist-type activities and then disappears; Elaine vanishes as well. By novel’s end, an explanation for Eva’s detached demeanor (as well as the violent opening scene) fully unfolds. Keirstead adopts an ambitious, impressionist approach to her story, which makes the plot hard to follow at times. Some readers may hunger for more specifics about time and place and more details of the underlying plot. Eva often comes across as a somewhat vapid entity rather than a “talent” that readers should care about. However, readers who commit to Eva’s dreamlike, “stuttering” state may find that the novel slowly gathers steam as an effective mood piece.
An evocative but challenging and elliptical novel about a young girl’s post-traumatic disaffection.