Abandoning the rest of her family, a woman runs away with her daughter to join her brother on a man-made island/new nation and reflects on what brought her there.
“Welcome to nowhere,” begins narrator Roseanne Okerfeldt, nowhere being a salvaged Danish oil rig in the North Atlantic, bought at auction and conceived as an independent island nation called Mobility. At first numbering 38 residents, the population’s dwindled to 10. Rosie, 31, is there to support her wheelchair-using brother—34-year-old President Wallis Crim—but also because she’s a fugitive. Tracing the circumstances that brought her to Mobility, Rosie looks back on a life of unfocused impulse. She works retail, gets pregnant and married at 19, and soon has three more children. For child care, she depends on her mother-in-law, whom she both resents and takes for granted. She runs off (taking her oldest daughter) to her brilliant older brother in Canada, where she meets his mentor and plans to start a micronation. Heppner (This Can Be Easy or Hard: Stories and Essays, 2014, etc.) has an excellent ear for sly, revealing dialogue: Cathy, a Mobility resident, “smiled grimly and took a bite of her roll….‘I’ve had work produced. He Raped Me ran for three weeks in Portland.’ ” His characters are sharply individual and well-delineated. Rosie’s account of her life—a string of bad decisions that she doubles down on—is engrossing and well-told, though her victimhood stance doesn’t convince: “[I]t was never my intention to abandon my children. As far as I’m concerned, they abandoned me,” she sniffs. She implies they’re better off without her—the standard excuse of a runaway. Heppner’s skill creates distance, however: the narrative voice is articulately intelligent and observant, but Rosie is narcissistic and unimaginative. (She writes in her notebook, but it’s hard to see where her linguistic finesse comes from.) Also, her brother Wallis remains obscure as a character even though he’s the real reason for Rosie’s joining Mobility: “He’s why I came here, you know.”
Well-written and intriguing.