A young woman reckons with the ghosts of her past, both literal and metaphorical, when she returns to the site of a childhood tragedy.
Culleton, New York, has a history of unsettling mysteries and books inspired by the disquieting atmosphere. Adair has returned to her hometown after a health crisis to convalesce in her childhood home, a writers’ retreat overseen by her uncle and guardian. The return brings back memories of her childhood best friend and distant cousin, Rowan, who disappeared 15 years earlier when the girls were 12. When Rowan’s half brother turns up at the retreat, working on a book about missing persons and asking for Adair’s help in understanding the circumstances of his sister’s disappearance, Adair has to reckon again with her memories of the event as well as the rest of the misfortunes of her young life. The chapters alternate among the perspectives of Adair in the present (which is 2010), Adair in 1995, and various people who have lived in Culleton since the 1800s. Donohoe (Ashes of Fiery Weather, 2017) is skilled at cultivating the pervasively disconcerting and melancholy atmosphere that surrounds both Culleton and Adair. There is an impressive weaving of science and mysticism so that when the reader realizes the “fact” behind a family’s curse, it stays just as foreboding as it was when it was just fantastical. The novel is rooted in Irish lore, legends of upstate New York, and historical facts from the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and '90s. Despite centering the story of two people trying to discover what happened to a missing girl, this isn’t a thriller but more of a meditation on loss and the power of memory and tradition.
A reflective tale of a town’s and a girl’s histories through the lens of rumor, storytelling, and ghosts.