A ghost story for the thinking person.
When Catherine Moore lost her mother her world was turned upside down. Distracted to the point that she’s unable to be productive at all, the doctoral student looks to her grandmother Natasha for solace and distraction, both of which she gets in spades. Natasha is a raconteur extraordinaire, and her stories about living and loving in World War II-era Crimea are so vivid that Catherine finds herself transported to the past, where she all but inhabits the soul of Natasha’s childhood friend Lilya. A dyed-in-the-wool pragmatist, Catherine is transformed by Natasha and Lilya and eventually regains the strength to cope with day-to-day life–and, more importantly, her mother’s death. Historically speaking, Dixon knows the world of which she writes, having banged out her doctoral thesis on the Crimean Tatars, which explains why Lilya and Natasha’s back stories come across as legit. Dixon cannily tweaks her prose to fit the era, the language becoming a bit more formal when she goes back to the early 20th century, which is a subtle but effective technique. Catherine is an engaging heroine, and there’s no question that readers will root for her to find love and come to terms with her loss. The book’s primary weakness is the author’s portrayal of the so-called supernatural. She’s not trying to channel Stephen King–Peter Straub at his most New-Agey is a better comparison–but a self-proclaimed â€œnovel of the supernatural” should feel somewhat more, well, supernatural and less pedantic and bookish. However, Catherine, Natasha and Lilya are individualistic and original characters, and Dixon moves things along at a nice clip to please the fussiest of readers.
Solid characterizations, fluid writing and outside-the-box attitude add up to a nice debut.