Debut novelist Lengsfelder chronicles one woman’s lifelong obsession with beauty.
Growing up in Bemidji, Minnesota, Eunis Kindsvatter doesn’t have many friends. She’s anything but popular at school, as she was born with albinism and a “blotchy brown birthmark” on her face. She also has a cruel mother and apathetic half siblings, so it comes as no surprise that her favorite companion as a child is a three-legged dog named Nemo. Eunis’ childhood reads as unpleasant but not unbearable, as she finds escapes in swimming and in anonymously acting as her high school’s mascot (which involves donning a full-body beaver costume). Through it all, she’s left to wonder: what makes her “ugly” while others are considered attractive? Eunis finds no easy answers, although she does her best to find them after she reaches adulthood. She’s driven enough to pore over scientific reports and work for years in a taxidermy shop (“I was able to learn a lot about beauty in those nine years”), but she’s not without her darker moments. After she endures a tragedy involving her husband, a man who loved reading Dickens and Poe, she battles loneliness, mental instability, and the challenges of moving to New York City. What will become of Eunis and her mission to unravel the secrets of beauty? This is an often bleak tale of endurance in an uncompromising world. Rooting for Eunis isn’t difficult, but understanding her nuances can be. Lengsfelder does offer details that might allow readers to see Eunis as more than just a woman motivated by her own genetic makeup, but they prove lacking. What, for instance, did she do during her time off when she wasn’t working at the taxidermy shop? What was it like for her the first time she left Minnesota? The book is at its best when it keeps readers curious about the protagonist’s next move, and her interactions with others become increasingly strange, leading the narrative to places that one could hardly guess at the outset. Readers will undoubtedly wonder what else the world has to throw at her.
An often dark novel that’s emphatically odd in more ways than one.