A middle-aged woman traces her father’s past on foot, by car, and from the sky as she uses her ability to fly.
Reuss begins his novel with a lovely bit of magic realism—an 8-year-old girl moving out of the flight path of a jetliner over New Jersey. The night landscape is below her, and “she could see herself in the distance, soaring, overtaking the woman she would become in the decades ahead.” That girl, now a divorced woman, Maisie, begins a journey through the pine barrens of her youth, reconnecting with the land and with her late father, Alden, and learning about the past from her father's cousin Sally—a wonderful character, quirky and comfortable. Sally remembers infinite details of people and places, time and space, but she has dementia and can't remember the previous day. Maisie is on a quest to discover her father, who was shunned by his in-laws after his wife’s death since he was a free-spirited artist certainly not able to raise their grandchild as only they could. His art is deeply connected to its place; he reworks the landscape in grand visions of ancient ruins and modern life. Maisie spent the summer she was 8 with him at Sally’s home in the woods, but her father disappears for good after losing his art in a fire. Forty-five years later, Maisie is contacted by Sally, who tells her that her father has died in Mexico, which initiates Maisie's search for his past in what's left of the forest. Reuss’ words are elegant, beautiful at times, creating a labyrinth of time, and his characterization is truly wonderful. But the book never comes together. Alden’s landscape art is an intellectual dead end for the reader, and the sense of family through place that Maisie longs for does not materialize, except from the air, real or not.
Reuss has given us a fascinating novel about interesting people who become fully formed in his writing, but the story never quite does.