A metaphysically haunting, shape-shifting novel that keeps the reader off balance and can’t be fully appreciated until its climax.
In the “Acknowledgments” following the novel, Rock (My Abandonment, 2009, etc.) calls this “a more interpersonal, bewildering, educational and emotional experience than anything I have ever written.” Readers will likely not only understand those feelings, but share many of them. Like his previous novel, this one reflects considerable research on the fringes of society, specifically the apocalyptic sect of the Church Universal and Triumphant, which preached that the world would end in the late 1980s. It didn’t. Yet fortified underground survival shelters remain, as do some believers. The novel reunites a man and a woman who were close as children when raised within the church. Francine is married and pregnant, with her present life with her husband, Wells, seeming to have little connection with her childhood past. A neighbor girl goes missing and is feared dead, and Francine helps with the search. Inexplicably (at least with no explanation that Wells or the reader can initially accept), the friend she hasn’t seen for decades appears seemingly from nowhere to help with the search, and her bond with him quickly seems stronger than the one she shares with her husband. With that setup, the novel then alternates among different types of chapters: a document Francine writes in remembrance of her experience with the church—perhaps to make sense of her life for her unborn child or even for herself, but found by Wells after Francine disappears—as well as ones that trace the pilgrimage of her friend Colville, the flight of Francine, the mysteries that Wells must resolve and the appearance of some sect leaders, at least one of whom suggests a divine purpose that strains the reader’s credulity but makes perfect sense to Colville. And to Francine? She finds “the Teachings still inside her, waiting to be brought into practice, to surface,” as “here she was again, circling back, a person with a person inside her.”
Written with a matter-of-fact flatness, the novel becomes indelibly unsettling as it progresses.