An ambitious debut sets magical realism loose upon the staid citizens of What Cheer, Kan.
Fifteen-year-old Ivy Engel has a lot on her mind. A colony of bats has set up residence in her backyard; her best friend Duncan survived a moped accident only to learn that the resulting scars may kill him; and Ivy’s been having vivid dreams of planets and eyeballs. Meanwhile, senior citizen Charlotte McCorkle resists taking her medication, has a vision of sorts on her driveway and confides to her hairdresser that her nephew, Gabriel, is an angel—not such a big deal, since angel sightings are a common occurrence in What Cheer. On the earthly plane, Rachel Loomis struggles to come to terms with her father’s abuse and her mother’s passive complicity. The mundane and the fantastical exist side by side in this small Kansas town without raising eyebrows. Rachel’s daughter, Ruby Tuesday, appears to be an oracle of sorts, and her ability has strange side effects: A neighbor sees a lemon “bubble up from her abdomen and burst forth from her churning jacket in a startling fruit birth.” When Martin LeFavor and his father encounter an alien spacecraft on their way home from the mall, the aliens take Martin’s father, as they desperately need his skin. Cows offer wisdom to those needing guidance. “I’ll tell you something I’ve learned from my transmigrational travails,” says one bovine. “The Book of Life has many a misprint, and in the translation back into flesh, something is always lost.” The chapters, many of which previously appeared in literary journals, are highly detailed and exquisitely written. But they don’t cohere into a unified whole: Characters meet and interact without propelling the story forward; the narrative remains fragmented and unfocused.
Doesn’t quite work, but Wells’s talent suggests that she’s one to watch.