In Allis’ debut novel, one woman’s journey out of an abusive marriage begins when the Twin Towers fall.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Kathy Stockton is in her Upper East Side home preparing to meet Jessica, her brother’s widow, for the first time; her brother died in a freak accident days earlier. She gets a phone call telling her that Jessica is in the hospital after hitting her head while trying to prevent a woman from being hit by a car. Kathy races to the hospital and learns that the woman she thinks is Jessica has injuries unrelated to her fall, “consistent with…repeated beatings.” Kathy takes the amnesiac woman back to her luxurious brownstone to recover, and the woman realizes that her name is actually Anissa Brogdon. She saved Jessica from getting run over, and paramedics thought Jessica’s identification was hers; Anissa’s abusive husband, Tennessee plastic surgeon Foley Brogdon, had taken her own wallet, purse and even her shoes to ensure she would remain in their hotel room near the Twin Towers while he attended a conference. Despite his abuse, Anissa immediately demands to call him—until Kathy shares that she too was a victim of violence from her own, now-deceased husband. Kathy realizes that the events of 9/11 have given Anissa an opportunity to recreate her life. She whisks Anissa away to Georgia, where she helps her start anew, but will she ever be able to escape Foley? Allis’ novel is extremely ambitious, taking on 9/11 and including a wide range of characters. At its best, it’s a suspenseful story about women helping other women to survive domestic violence. Unfortunately, the quality of the prose doesn’t match its ambition. There are graphic, clichéd sex scenes (“the dance that men and women have danced together to the beat of the erotic musical tempo of their bodies thrashing down through the ages”), and the plot relies heavily on convenient coincidences. For example, Anissa had Jessica’s purse at the accident scene because she’d grabbed it to yank Jessica out of traffic—but wouldn’t Jessica have been carrying some kind of photo ID? The novel also repeatedly diverges from the plot to describe the geopolitical reverberations of the terrorist attacks, and every time a character enters a new house, there’s a distracting, detailed description of home furnishings that wouldn’t be out of place in Elle Décor.
A sprawling, ambitious novel overshadowed by unnecessary, awkward digressions.