Myslik-McFadden’s novel tells an inventive tale of death and transformation.
Much of the narrative is a book within a book, written by the protagonist, Maria. Maria flies to Georgia to visit her mother, who is on her deathbed. The two have been distant, if not estranged, and Maria has never met her half sister, Gwen. It’s not just her mother’s sickness that leads Maria to fly to her side. Her mother wrote her a letter detailing her plans to shoot herself to end her life with dignity. Maria has to reconcile her own past and develop her relationship with Gwen. Her mother asks Maria to read the novel she has been working on. Maria reads it to her and decides which parts she wants her mother to hear; she’s nervous because the story concerns a woman finding herself through writing and visiting her sick mother after a long absence. Dream sequences and poems, all in different font sizes and formats, appear throughout. To Myslik-McFadden’s credit, this isn’t as confusing as it sounds. She keeps the stories separate, even if the different formats distract. Maria’s novel seems to reflect much of her life, though she tells her mother that it’s not autobiographical. The novel within a novel makes up the bulk of the book’s final 200 pages, only returning to the main story occasionally to mark the passing of time. The author leaves the reader to decide how much of Maria is contained in Anne, her novel’s protagonist. Myslik-McFadden imparts a wonderful sense of place and setting, letting the readers see, feel and smell the scenes. The action is clear and vivid, but the consequences are for the reader to ponder.
A nuanced, memorable book that draws no facile conclusions.