In Alcott’s first novel, a young woman dissects a shattered relationship as she strives to understand the elements and emotions that have defined her life.
Throughout childhood, neighbors Ida and Jackson share an indivisible bond that can’t be penetrated, even by Jackson’s younger brother, James. They have that rare connection that sometimes forms between individuals, a tie so strong that the two breathe, eat, sleep and function almost as one. The boys’ mother and Ida’s guilt-ridden father (Ida’s mother died in a horrific fire while he was in an alcoholic stupor) maintain a friendship and quasi-family unit based on compatibility and necessity, and the children spend most of their time together. Jackson and James are somnambulists, and Ida is intrigued by their ability to converse in their sleep. As Jackson and Ida’s love evolves into a physical relationship, James struggles with drugs and mental illness, and the three contend with inevitable changes in the dynamics of their friendship. When Jackson strikes Ida in his sleep, she buys art supplies to divert his actions, and Jackson begins to produce amazing artwork—a feat that he can only accomplish while in a sleeping state. Against his wishes, Ida takes his work to an art gallery owner, who then arranges a public showing, and this ultimately signifies the end for the couple. The narrative, which begins after the breakup, expertly interweaves Ida’s current reflections with her introspection about past events, some simple and innocent, others complex and appalling: the circus wallpaper held together by tape in the boys’ bedroom; a toy Godzilla purchased by James at a garage sale; sexual exploration at an early age; the kidnapping of a neighborhood girl. All add dimension to each character and help establish the emotional depth of a well-told story.
An accomplished debut.