Sensory, haunting, and somewhat literally haunted, this novel tackles the big subjects—belonging, mortality, love—with quiet grace and intimate focus.
Wood’s (Diving Belles, 2012) novel is, on the surface, about three generations of women and their search for home. Ada, who has never settled in one place for long, returns to the house of her childhood to cast her mother Pearl’s ashes in the river. Accompanied by her fey 6-year-old daughter, Pepper, she finds herself confronted by memories of her mother (as well as her ghost), which unexpectedly lead to new beginnings. Written from the points of view of all three female characters, the novel explores quintessential questions of relationship, growing up, and survival. As in the river that rages through the story, though, the true vitality lies beneath the surface of Wood’s exquisite and poetic writing. While there isn't much action, the prose—sometimes delicate and precise, sometimes rich and layered—sweeps the reader inexorably on. Wood makes liberal use of descriptive language: "The last few shots showed the afternoon seeping away; the sky turning the dark blue of costly ink. A bright leaf like a star, a bedraggled feather." The careful accumulation of detail about the ramshackle house, its lonely inhabitants, and the fierce river creates an emotional connection that is grounded, rather than in pathos, in the beauty of the world, moment by moment, and how that beauty sustains us, even when we feel lost. The setting is both specific and timeless, and the characters are flawed in universal ways, making them easy to identify with despite their isolation and oddness. The ruminations on mortality and redemption, not grandiose but simply thoughtful, make the memory of the novel linger long after reading.
A luminous modern fairy tale.