In this dreamlike novel, a young woman moves through a series of strange jobs and wrestles with haunting childhood memories.
It begins with a sudden and jarring scene: a boy and a girl and a rock and a game that suddenly turns ritualistic and violent. It casts its shadow over the story that’s told in the pages that follow. “Then she found herself caring for the memory of an old woman’s dog,” writes Howard. That “she” is Lucy, the novel’s protagonist and the grown-up version of the girl encountered on the first page. In the book’s first section, she takes a job watching an elderly woman’s nonexistent dog and soon bonds with two neighborhood children. She tells them strange stories that read like ephemeral folk tales; in the second section, those are given a new dimension, as the story of Lucy’s past relationship with her brother is fleshed out. There’s a mysterious disappearance, and an even more mysterious return, as the young Lucy begins to suspect that the returnee may no longer be her brother. Identities blur here, a feeling accentuated by Howard’s fondness for using descriptions (“the girl”) in lieu of proper names. It lends the novel as a whole an archetypal quality, even as Lucy’s progression through a series of strange jobs continues. Late in the novel, one character tells Lucy, “You’re like the goddamned Mona Lisa of melancholy,” and it’s a brief moment of self-awareness, an acknowledgement of the book’s essential mood.
As Lucy progresses through surreal landscapes, her journey highlights experiences both delightful and sinister—a haunting take on one life on society’s margins.