A debut novel spins a fairy tale about the power and terror of female desire.
Sixteen-year-old Maisie Cothay leads an isolated existence. She was born with a rare talent: Her touch can kill living things and resurrect the dead. As a result, her mother died while Maisie was in utero, and she grows up at Urizon—her ancestral home, which has “a reputation for tragedy”—with only her academic father and a housekeeper for company. Maisie knows that something is cursed in her history: The portraits of her ancestors that line the halls come with legends and rumors about the “bedeviled family line.” Many of these stories involve the nearby forest Maisie grew up fearing, warned by her father to never enter. But when Maisie’s father disappears, leaving only a strange old map as a clue to his whereabouts, Maisie is convinced that the forest is the key to finding him. As Maisie ventures into the wider world for the first time, she must learn who can be trusted and, finally, via the mysterious woods, must reckon with the true nature of her own gifts and the cursed women in her lineage. Fine, too, looks to the past: Everything from the setting to the elegantly formal prose seems lifted from a 19th-century fairy tale—so much so that it can break the spell somewhat when characters refer to their sneakers or a recycling bin. The novel, with its mysterious forest and Maisie’s creative/destructive powers, works well as an allegory of a certain kind of traditional womanly experience of burgeoning sexuality, knowledge, and growing up; though not all female-identifying readers may see themselves here, the poise and skill with which the story unfolds is an undeniable pleasure.
Fine has written an old-fashioned book with contemporary resonances.