In the wake of their father’s death, two half siblings confront their pasts and try to rewrite their futures.
Hauser (The From-Aways, 2014) returns with a strange and heartbreaking novel about what it means to be a family. When their estranged father, Dr. Ian Grey, drowns while conducting research, adult half siblings Elsa and Nolan Grey are brought together for the first time in years. Ian, along with other peculiar scientists and researchers, lived on Leap’s Island in the Gulf of Mexico, where he studied the undowny bufflehead, a duck species that seems to be evolving backwards. Before his death, Ian had become obsessed with one duck, Duck Number Twelve or the Paradise Duck, which he described as “a freak among its peers.” Traveling to Leap’s Island, the half siblings hope to gather Ian’s possessions and find answers to their lingering questions. Elsa believes Ian committed suicide, but Nolan is adamant he didn’t. They both wonder if their own failures, inadequacies, and mistakes caused their father to withdraw from the world. Elsa and Nolan must also grapple with their fraught relationship—full of taboos, secrets, and abandonment issues. Playing with time, memory, and point of view, the novel is structurally ambitious, though sometimes to its own detriment. Its strongest parts are its ruminations on the Grey family dynamics, so the portraits of the islanders feel expendable. Hauser's ability to render the complexities of family relationships with radical honesty is a feat. When Elsa thinks back on her childhood, Hauser writes, “her father had been taken from her over and over again, and Elsa was tired of coming up with new ways to suffer in his absence.” A lesser writer would not be able to deliver the disturbing and weird with the grace that Hauser does.
A unique, poignant, and slightly taboo novel about family, biology, and evolution.