In a slim novel divided into four parts, Blauner (It Looks Worse Than I Am, 2014, etc.) explores the themes of Frankenstein in the context of a bizarre father-daughter relationship and a quest for self-understanding.
Mara lives a lonely and confusing life with her father, a disgraced scientist who lost a wife and daughter in a car accident. Driven by grief, he creates Mara out of parts collected from corpses, assembling them with endless operations and experiments in an obsessive attempt to re-create the loved ones who haunt his laboratory in photographs. Mara is not yet an accurate facsimile. Parts of her body wear out and need to be replaced. She struggles to control her unusual physical strength and is terrified of hurting other creatures by accident. After a disturbing visit from an outsider, Mara runs away and sets out on a journey that has the feel of a fairy tale, despite its more contemporary setting. She encounters a series of unusual characters, and each interaction serves as a lesson about self. The story lacks subtlety and harps on themes of self-discovery, but Mara’s dogged curiosity and integrity give the novel an appealing energy. She's an engaging heroine, and the fact that the story is told in her voice helps smooth over odd lapses in logic and strangely awkward turns of phrase. Blauner often reaches for a quirky expression of detail that sometimes creates a charming image (“His usual frown ruffled his forehead like a hat”) and sometimes verges on silly (“Greg’s corneas screamed with my awkward reflection”), but when her writing is at its clearest and simplest, Mara’s wonder at her journey and the people she meets springs off the page and welcomes the reader into her world.
An uneven novel that depends on its intriguing heroine.