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THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING by Jamie Harrison Kirkus Star


by Jamie Harrison

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-64009-234-1
Publisher: Counterpoint

Despite various mysteries and suspicious deaths in this story about a Montana woman uncovering secrets past and present, Harrison wisely concentrates less on plot twists than on exploring the trickiness of memory where love and family are concerned.

Over the course of a week in the summer of 2002, 42-year-old Polly, a married mother of two and sometime editor who helps her husband run his restaurant in Livingston, Montana, finds herself coping with several crises at once. Since a recent bicycle accident, Polly has struggled with memory problems, remembering too much as well as too little. As she prepares for a large family reunion to celebrate her great aunt Maude’s 90th birthday, disjointed images of the past haunt her, and arguments with her mother, Jane—a highly successful historian who's written about "the eternal nature of stories"—about whether some of Polly’s memories may be false, have exacerbated her fear of losing her mind. Meanwhile, her children’s babysitter, Ariel, is missing and presumed drowned after a kayaking mishap. The tragedy involves Polly and the tight-knit Livingston community first in a search for Ariel, then in mourning, then in uncomfortable suspicions surrounding Ariel’s kayaking companion and apparent boyfriend. Polly’s emotional turmoil is the center of the novel as she fixates not only on Ariel’s death, but also on what exactly happened in 1968, "when her world blew up.” Another layer of understanding comes in chapters in which the 1968 events, extremes of joy and tragedy, are seen through Polly’s limited 7-year-old perspective. The result is a kaleidoscope of facts and recollections that reveal emotional as well as factual truth only in tantalizing fragments. Some mysteries remain unsolved; others Polly solves, sometimes to her dismay. Through small moments, particularly shared meals and drinks, the reader becomes intimately involved in Polly’s inner life and falls in love with a vividly portrayed Montana devoid of Western clichés.

A sharply intelligent, warmhearted embrace of human imperfection—the kind of book that invites a second reading.