Unearthed memories resuscitate a flagging spirit in this debut novel.
When Carol Noeleen, 75, takes to her bed, seemingly for good, her patient husband, Mark, is at a loss to explain such a withdrawal from their comfortable life. Carol isn’t ill, at least not physically, but she is afflicted, and the culprit is a loquacious spider that only she can perceive. At first, Carol tries to reject the spectral presence in the upper corner of her bedroom. But the spider’s insistent whispering, coaxing Carol into confronting memories that she’d just as soon consign to her “forgettery,” proves too therapeutic to ignore. The memories come then, some mundane, others harrowing, like that of the abortion she had as a young woman, or the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. A sense of mystery builds from her unburdening, a feeling that there is a particular trauma, significant enough to be buried in the preconscious mind, toward which the spider is leading her. Admirably, Darling doesn’t indulge in pulp fiction, maintaining a cool, mature tone, appropriate for an older character looking back on a life fully lived. Carol winks at the absurdity of having conversations with a pretend spider, but she knows her creation’s raison d’être: “It’s something to do with coming to terms with yourself...tying up loose ends.” Carol needs to tell her stories, if only inwardly, and she won’t return to life until they are sorted and ordered. Strange then, in a work of luminous, floating reflections, that the author pivots toward plot. A dinner party offers a chance connection that may allow Carol and Mark to rectify a tragedy suffered by their housekeeper, and the prospect draws the protagonist fully from her bed. A certain patness to this final section undermines what came before—did Carol really need to parse the memories of her varied life? Or did she just need to try to come to someone’s rescue?
A graceful meditation on the value of confronting one’s past, muddied by a plot twist.