Kasischke (White Bird in a Blizzard, 1998, etc.) uses the random high-school massacres of the last few years as a taking-off point to compare the life of a typical teenaged girl with the adult self she becomes—or imagines she will.
In a high school in 2000, a boy on a shooting spree barges into the girls’ lavatory, where he presents the two friends inside with a choice of biblical proportion: Which girl should he kill? Born-again Maureen offers herself to save her best friend Diana while Diana hears herself ask him to shoot Maureen and let her live. From this moment, the story travels in time, back to the previous months when Diana and Maureen cemented their friendship and then forward to Diana’s idyllic future 20 years later. Married to a philosophy professor, living in a charming house with rockers on the front porch, and raising a lovable blond daughter, the grown-up Diana and her life are oddly bland—until, that is, the ominous pinpricks of darkness begin to accumulate rapidly: a cat resembling her own dead one appears suddenly in the kitchen; her daughter’s teacher suspects her of bad parenting; teenagers have sex in the neighbor’s pool; she sees her husband walking down the street with a pretty student whose hand lies provocatively in his back pocket. Is Diana’s life unraveling because of her guilt at sacrificing Maureen in order to survive? Or is Diana correct that her past has started “to bleed into the present”? As the adult Diana’s life becomes a nightmare, her teenaged self continues in a happily mindless drift—watching TV, flirting with boys, hanging out with Maureen—until the two selves converge with horrific violence. Unfortunately, there is a generic, overmanaged quality to Diana’s life as both teenager and woman. Although it packs a scary wallop, the novel is ultimately too self-conscious and contrived to be truly moving.
Ambitious, flawed, disturbing.