Zani (Piper, Once & Again, 2016) returns with an intricately crafted novel about starting over after suffering life-changing loss.
The narrative opens with an intriguing dialogue, occurring in 1991, between an unnamed plastic surgeon seeking legal advice, and a lawyer, identified only as “Cranston,” who refuses to take the doctor’s case because “We only take cases we can win.” Fast-forward to 2019, and Dr. Eli Cranston is in his barn feeding Ink and Smudge, two rescue ponies that he recently adopted. Is this the same Cranston? Indeed, it is. In 1991, Eli was a successful defense attorney working for his father’s law firm, one of the largest in California. He was married to a woman named Antigone and had a newborn daughter, Grace. Since then, readers learn, he’s become a doctor of psychotherapy specializing in “FLP” (“Future Life Progression,” a form of hypnotic therapy), and has moved to a small town in Maine. The principal people in Eli’s new life are Clem, a crusty but charming jack-of-all-trades who speaks with a heavy Maine accent (“Just give me the kinda terlet seat yah want”); Rebecca, who owns a farm and sells baked goods at the farmers market; Otto and Elise Gunther, survivors of Nazi Germany; and Hope, an 11-year-old with a drug-abusing mother and an abusive, heavy-drinking father; the girl takes care of Eli’s ponies. Zani’s engaging, descriptive narration is filled with powerful imagery, whether she’s describing a setting (“the sounds of the water beyond the trees could be heard here in the stillness. The bay quietly filling and emptying leaving the sand studded with clams”) or disclosing someone’s inner thoughts. Throughout, the author drops hints and uses periodic flashbacks—set during various stages of Grace’s early and teenage years—which make it clear that Eli is deeply troubled by something in his past that he’d rather not address. She skillfully weaves together what initially appear to be unrelated story threads and provides some surprising twists, as when Hope learns who her great-grandparents are, or when Eli finally overcomes his demons and his past comes roaring back, threatening to upend it all.
A quick read with likable characters and an affecting ending.