In this debut novel, a former academic and new mother searches for an ex-colleague who lifted details from her own life and put them into his fiction.
Dr. Molly O’Connor White, 33, is shocked to see Anna’s Blue, a novel by John Foster, in her suburban bookstore. John, a former co-worker at nearby Fitzer College, had encouraged Molly, who’d taught a course on Emily Dickinson, to pursue her own writing. But when Molly later became pregnant by her husband, Paul, John disappeared. Now, two years later, Molly is a stay-at-home mother, raising toddler Laurel and wondering whether her often-absent husband is faithful to her. After she reads the opening of John’s book, she realizes that he stole a story that she told him about Hatter, a boy in her Queens, New York, Catholic middle school who “was a natural at inflicting pain” yet also “the love of [her] life.” She believes John’s book to be “a beckoning,” especially because its title includes a color that she’d told John was important in her life. She visits John’s most recent New York City address, but finds only his grandfather there, surrounded by cats named Molly. Later, her Polish cleaning woman, Ava, introduces her to her “magician” friend, Zoltan, who directs Molly to John’s hometown of Savannah, Georgia. With Ava, Laurel, and family dogs in tow, Molly goes south, literally and figuratively; she experiences both crackup and clarity by novel’s end. Author Kern has written a stunning, intense novel that recalls the road-trip madness of Lolita and the funhouse-mirror storytelling of Alice in Wonderland. Molly’s journey is by turns heartbreaking and hilarious, with cosmetologist-in-training Ava and a wry hotel clerk providing sardonic comic commentary. Molly’s back story is at times both overly detailed and unclear (do readers need Molly’s entire short story about Hatter? And did he really exist?), but such murkiness only serves to further draw readers in to Molly’s world. Overall, it’s a fine, accomplished effort.
An evocative, engaging depiction of a woman’s mental breakdown.