In a novel reworked after a self-published debut, Gurley (Deep Breath Hold Tight, 2014, etc.) follows the lives of identical twins Eleanor and Esmerelda as they struggle through a reality that is shaped and reshaped by tragedy and mysterious, otherworldly events.
When Eleanor and Esmerelda are 6, their family is torn apart by a devastating accident that takes Esmerelda’s life and leaves Eleanor and her parents suffering from a corrosive mix of grief and resentment. As Eleanor gets older, the effects of her twin’s death linger, and her family becomes ever more fractured and dysfunctional, forcing her to care for her withdrawn, alcoholic mother. Eleanor endures, despite crushing abuses, with an almost saintly determination until a day when she is inexplicably thrown out of her ordinary reality and into a strange and dreamy alternate one. This happens several times—always unexpectedly, always to someplace new—and these bewildering journeys slowly draw Eleanor into the desires of a stranger who wields enormous powers and seems peculiarly invested in her family’s happiness. The storyline plays with time, leaping through years and generations, lingering on Eleanor’s teenage years and hopping ahead in a few places like unlikely, but convenient, jump-cuts. While this often creates a satisfying sensation of events spooling out and connections snapping into place, it sometimes wavers into a neatly plotted lull where there is a lack of both surprises and lasting consequences. The entire world of the novel droops under the Witt family’s unhappiness; tragedy piles onto even the supporting characters to a degree that is either unlucky or unlikely. Despite the novel's somber excess, its characters are engaging and pleasantly written. Their persistent appeal, coupled with some beautifully imagined other realities, is enough to draw the reader onward to the end.
An ambitious novel that explores grief with elements of the fantastic but sometimes stumbles on its own implausible efforts.