Second pseudonymous novel from Kelly (Take Me, Take Me With You, 2004), this one about an unstable, vulnerable young woman probing the losses in her life for patterns or larger meanings.
Short, skittish first-person cuts follow an idiosyncratic pattern of remembered moments. An event from childhood looms large in the memory of Merilee Graf, 26, a small-town girl from upstate New York who now lives in Manhattan. One day in 1988, her African-American classmate Lilac Jimson disappeared—a victim, it was believed, of sexual abuse and/or murder. Even more than the facts, the secrecy and rumors surrounding the event made it provocative for Merilee, a “good” girl who was expected not to even associate with a black kid from the wrong side of the tracks. In the present, Merilee returns home to Mt. Olive to see her dying father, once a vital and handsome businessman, world traveler and the town’s mayor. Mother died four years ago, father and daughter were never close, but he’s genuinely moved when she gives him a valuable and delicate glass heart: “Gifts you give out of love. Gifts you give out of the sickest guilt. This gift to my father . . . was both.” At the hospital, Merilee runs into Lilac’s imposing brother Roosevelt, who triggers memories and speculation about Lilac. These evocative flashbacks depict the fruitless public search, which continued for months, as well as overheard snippets of adult conversations (clucking Aunt Cameron is a regular contributor) about the situation. Ever since that time, Merilee has lived in persistent fear that a similar fate might befall her. When her father dies, long-lost Uncle Jedah arrives to serve as the estate’s executor. He immediately fancies himself a surrogate father, but his relationship with Merilee proves to have many disturbing and surprising wrinkles.
A haunting portrait of grief and psychological fragility.