In Goettel’s debut novel, a man becomes trapped in his wife’s body.
Young Linda has led a peculiar, sheltered life. Even before she and her husband drink poisoned wine that changes their lives, things aren’t exactly going well for her. She’s bulimic, dislikes her job at a group home, distrusts her husband and seems to be out of time and place, uncomfortable in her own skin. Perhaps that’s why she seems to disappear after drinking the funny wine. The drink kills her husband, but not entirely—though Derrick’s body is dead, he appears to have spiritually taken up residence inside of Linda. This isn’t the classic Freaky Friday type of body swap, since the Derrick who resides inside of Linda seems to maintain some of her ideas and personality, which may be why he has such an impossible time convincing Linda’s mother, Shelley, that he is really Derrick. Shelley, whose passive-aggressive nature has probably contributed to her daughter’s psychological issues, takes Linda/Derrick back to Linda’s childhood home while Linda recovers from the scare that sent her to the hospital and left Derrick dead. The two personalities struggle against one another inside Linda’s body as Linda fights to come back into herself, growing stronger and perhaps more stable through the strange ordeal. The novel, told from an omniscient perspective, employs a stream-of-consciousness style that, much like the personalities inside Linda, can be confusing. In one exchange at the hospital, the point of view shifts from the doctor to Linda/Derrick to Shelley in the space of just a few paragraphs. At other times, the rambling style of thought and speech makes little sense: “New England gentry, old English terms: saw-spins.” Elsewhere, Derrick’s ineptitude can be a bit much at times. It’s hard to believe he has no idea how to do laundry and has never heard of tortellini.
This high-concept novel has a bizarre, unique twist, but it’s not always easy to see through the dense prose.