A debut novel about a strangely appealing heroine whose lonely search for understanding plunges her into the dark weirdness of her family history.
Natalie is 27, recently single, recently motherless, and afflicted with pica, the abnormal desire to consume inedible substances. She chews the plastic and foam of hair curlers, savors the “chemical paste” of lipstick, and devours—both by reading and by eating—horror novels as a comforting sedative. When her father, the sad and inscrutable Boris, claims to receive a voice mail from her dead mother, Natalie finds herself returning to the run-down neighborhood outside of Boston where her mother’s gypsy relatives live in search of answers to unhappy family mysteries. Tifft stuffs Natalie’s story with bizarre details and unlikely coincidences, piling misfortune on top of quirk with extravagant abandon. Natalie is the assistant to a mentally deteriorating weatherman, her troubled older brother disappeared when she was 14, her father is attacked by a fortuneteller, her ex-boyfriend is a soon-to-be psychiatrist. Looming over everything else is Natalie’s urge to eat inappropriate things, and Tifft’s lush, vividly sensorial descriptions of this affliction-cum-comfort allow Natalie to escape the flat neuroses and coldness that often spoil literary novels about sad women and excessive whimsy. Natalie feels real; her longings feel true. There is a refreshing lack of irony in a character who remembers drinking a childhood soda as a revelatory experience: “The cold bright sparkle would hit my throat with a dazzling burst, and it was like an awakening back into the sweet world of the living.”
An unusual, strikingly written novel about a young woman’s desire for understanding and love and how that longing remains familiar in even the most eccentric of circumstances.