First-novelist Winer explores the meaning of survival and identity, as a woman, mourning her dead mother, her old way of life, and a futile love affair, finds her new life even more perplexing than her old.
Forty-two-year-old Ursula Grant, living alone in Boston, has created a quiet but satisfying life around her books, her dog Brontë, and her married lover Daniel Dorfman. But when her exacting mother Ruth dies, her world literally falls apart: the walls of books she has erected in the confusion of her grief collapse, and kill her dog, and injure her. Daniel, her mother’s financial adviser, is married to Cissy, a former Tennessee beauty queen. Cissy knows Daniel is cheating on her, and, now tired of the situation, decides to act. As does Ursula, who impulsively boards an Athens-bound flight. Cissy, determined to kill Ursula, has followed her on board, but the plane crashes over the Alps (a bomb has exploded), and there is seemingly only one survivor, a badly burned amnesiac—Ursula. From then on the story becomes a succession of hallucinations punctuated by moments of reality as a restless Ursula, unable to recall her past and still recovering from her injuries, flies first to Israel, then to Crete. There, she’s recognized by Cissy, who, in fact, also survived the crash: Unharmed, she had walked away to assume a new life as a travel guide. Ursula, now tormented by strange encounters and hallucinations, some sexually graphic, begins to regain her memory. Which is timely, because back in Boston Daniel has been accused of murdering her. And Cissy, assured that Ursula is no longer a threat, embarks on another journey, one that’s as much an adventure as a validation of her new, confident self.
An imaginative but flawed debut, with slight characters and a strained plot that are, at times, overwhelmed by powerful word pictures and demanding big ideas.