A searing portrayal of a woman's complicated grief.
Sullivan’s (The Sky Isn’t Visible from Here: A Memoir, 2009) first novel is not a straightforward saga about how pain is passed down through generations. Rather, it traces the effects of death by suicide and murder using nonlinear vignettes that dip in and out of three decades, from the late 1960s to the present day. The plot is delivered in poetic fragments and dialogue. We first meet Kate, a baker who's consumed by rage at a teenager, Gillian, who's sleeping with her stepfather, James, while her mother, Ellie, is dying of lung cancer. Kate’s rage doesn’t subside when Ellie commits suicide; it only grows. Rage, it seems, is not a new emotion for Kate but one that has been festering inside her for a long time: “the precision of baking cakes comforts me. Right now I need to follow an outline. I need to color in the lines. This is how I get through my days without screaming. At night, I bite into my pillows and swallow some of the feathers.” Kate and Gillian are doppelgängers in a terrible way; after she watches news about a serial killer, Kate realizes “all the victims resemble that woman. Gillian. And since I look just like her, someone out there is killing versions of me.” In early foreshadowing, Gillian tells her stepbrother, Jonah, “I want to be a person who turns over leaves,” only for him to reply, “News flash: leaves look the same on both sides.” This is an exploration of violence and the lengths one will go to to fulfill desires too dangerous and abnormal to be spoken of except to others who share them. It's also a novel that shows how habits leap from one generation to the next and untreated mental illness morphs into something profoundly damaging.
An original, spellbinding, and horrifying read.