THE FIFTH WOMAN by Nona Caspers


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This novel in stories tracks grief through all its painful stages, from the surreal collapse of memory to the bittersweet tug of letting go.

When Michelle dies in a bicycle accident, the unnamed female narrator is left to sift through memories of their love story, good and bad. “She was a confident chewer,” she recalls in the opening vignette, “Ants.” The narrator has difficulty tracking which details about her lover are important, which might drift away over time, and which might, inexplicably, stick around. Faced with such a loss, which details should one even bother to hold onto? “Some things I can’t remember,” she thinks. “I can’t remember if we had plants in that apartment, if Michelle liked houseplants.” In “The Horse,” the narrator battles grief through her fixation on a tragedy by a writer she admires, eventually creating a new ending in the pages of her thesis. In “Reception,” she chronicles the mundane ins and outs of her receptionist job, including the breakdown of her reserved but dependable boss. And in “The Ocean,” she imagines the afterlives of two old friends, whose ghosts needle her into taking a day trip to the beach. “Oh, please,” says one ghost, after the narrator tries to learn more about life on the other side. “Life has made you so boring.” Caspers’ writing is spare and deceptively straightforward, lending even her realist portraits the soft edges of a dream. Each vignette is short—some are only a page long—but poignant; as if Lydia Davis’ controlled remove had been sifted through the humor and immediacy of Michelle Tea. But it’s the accumulation of grief that matters here, almost as much as the details of domesticity, a quiet but tender declaration of queer love lost in San Francisco. “What did she want from me?” the narrator wonders in the days after the accident. “What are the things that matter?” Some years later, she gets her answer, newly in love with an ambitious programmer named Larissa. “I am so afraid and so awake,” she thinks. Which is, of course, the risk of living and loving well.

A writer to watch.

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-946448-17-0
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Sarabande
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2018


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