In Rowland's complexly narrated debut family drama, a young woman embarks on a spiritual quest to deal with her past.
“The truth never helped anyone,” Elinor Fleischer’s bitter mother, Lydia, tells her. But from childhood, Eli searches for truth just the same, prompted by venomous family relationships obvious even in the book’s opening pages, when late-30s Eli, believing she’s having a heart attack, calls her mother from the emergency room and only then learns the family has a history of heart disease. Even as a child, Eli had been skeptical of organized religion, challenging her Methodist religion class: “If the piece of bread was really Christ’s body, then it would already contain the blood. Why would you need both?” When still a young girl, Eli was sent by her mother to live with her grandparents Matthias and Rebekah, a thoroughly over-the-top evil pair: To punish Eli for speaking out of turn, Matthias snapped the necks of a whole kitten litter. Through subsequent timeline jumps, Eli searches her memories using everything from ancient Celtic stories to reiki meditation techniques. Eventually, she begins to uncover buried memories of an unspeakable trauma, which intensifies her anger toward her mother, whom she views as complicit in the wrong done to her. But her spiritual quest also includes a way to forgive her mother, as she consults “forgiveness masters” such as Martin Luther King Jr. and the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A simple reformatting would help—the entire work is left-justified, with minimal spaces between paragraphs—and shifts in verb tense needed to be addressed, but the powerful story will nonetheless particularly appeal to survivors of childhood trauma.
An uneven but searching look at how memory shapes reality.