A narrative of disability and its consequences.
An author of science fiction, thrillers, and historical fiction, Griffith (Hild, 2013, etc.) defies easy categorization. So does her latest novel. It has some of the elements of crime fiction, but its shape does not conform to the genre’s norms. Romantic relationships play a significant role in the plot, but this is certainly not a romance novel. This is, more than anything, a story about disability and how it shapes—and reshapes—people’s lives. The narrative begins with Mara Tagarelli’s longtime partner, Rose, leaving her for another woman. When Mara turns to Aiyana, one of her oldest friends, for comfort, their relationship turns sexual. But Aiyana’s job is taking her to New Zealand, so Mara is alone when she discovers that she has multiple sclerosis. As both the illness and the side effects of drug therapy take their toll, Mara is forced to step down as executive director of a multimillion-dollar AIDS organization. Her experience in that space gives her tools for advocating for herself and other people with MS, but her failing body challenges Mara’s sense of herself. She’s used to being strong and self-reliant, and now she is weak and dependent. She doubts that anyone can really want her. She is prickly about Rose’s offers of help, and she assumes that Aiyana has lost interest. Then MS sufferers on a mailing list Mara has compiled become the victims of violence, and she suspects that the perpetrators might be working their way toward her. There are plenty of compelling themes here, and this might have been an excellent novel if it had been half again as long. But everything feels rushed. Mara’s reaction to her disease is raw and honest, but readers only see her as caustic and difficult. Unpleasant protagonists can be compelling, of course, but, here, it’s easier to understand why Rose and Aiyana would ditch Mara than to understand why they stick with her. And the element of mystery is introduced late and resolved before it generates any real tension.
Original but disappointing.