Mulhern’s (Assumptions and Other Stories, 2016, etc.) drama covers years in the life of Molly Bonamici, who’s indifferent to death and whose most discernible emotion is emptiness.
There are those who consider Molly weird. Even her own parents, who raised her Roman Catholic, are bothered by the fact that she doesn’t believe in God. As a teenager in 1980, Molly is closest to her Nonna, who recognizes that her granddaughter is a bright, beautiful girl. Molly is intrigued by death, if not outright fascinated, but is disturbed when a reputed faith healer tells her that she’ll be “surrounded by death” throughout her life. Soon thereafter, she witnesses her first dead body, an apparent suicide. This incident doesn’t faze Molly, which is apparent to others who see that she isn’t visibly distraught. The 17-year-old graduates early and heads to Boston University, where death follows: a prank apparently results in a student’s fatal heart attack, and Molly loses someone closer to home. A couple of decades later, Molly is a high school English teacher and self-professed asexual woman. She moves from Boston to Florida with new best friend, gay fitness trainer Gabe Callaghan. The still faithless woman becomes a bit reclusive, but Gabe is determined to make a believer out of her. Molly, however, will soon have an epiphany of a thoroughly different sort. The novel, compiled at least in part of previously published short stories, reads like snippets—though the best ones—from a larger tale. Molly’s apathy toward death isn’t as strange as other characters think, more a curiosity than an obsession. This is likewise true for her religious views; Molly doesn’t reject religion but continually (and interestingly) questions it, like why would God allow horrible things to happen. And she’s forever debating her belief: she’s agnostic, then atheist, then unsure. Mulhern’s narrative hits the occasional standstill, where Molly repeatedly ponders the same issues with Nonna or Gabe. But while she may have a cold exterior, her distinctiveness is an appealing quality and often amusing. Molly, for example, discussing a dead body, tells a store clerk: “[M]aggots are a good source of protein....Do you sell word processors?”
A gleefully and wonderfully odd protagonist eases readers into a bare-bones plot.