A malign stranger’s visit to a remote Minnesota log cabin in the 1930s will cast long shadows over a family in a fatalistic second novel.
After her quirky debut, Rasmussen (The Bird Sisters, 2011) returns to the subject of siblings, this time via a fairy tale–flavored three-generation family portrait set in a forest wilderness. Evergreen is the tiny riverside community to which Eveline LeMay travels in 1938 to join her new husband, German immigrant and taxidermist Emil. Arriving dreamily in a rudderless boat, Eveline disembarks into a life of rural simplicity and hard labor, wrapped in the sweetness of a loving marriage. Soon after a son, Hux, is born, however, Emil is called back to Germany, to his father’s deathbed. The year being 1939, his return to Eveline will not be problem-free. Opting to stay on the land instead of returning to her own parents during Emil’s absence, Eveline discovers strength and local friendship but also suffers a traumatic rape which leads to the birth of a daughter, Naamah, whom Eveline reluctantly decides to abandon at the door of Hopewell, a Catholic orphanage. Naamah’s cruel treatment at the hands of Sister Cordelia, the crazed nun in charge at Hopewell, leaves ineradicable scars on the child’s psyche; although she escapes at age 14, her behavior—even after Hux finds and rescues her, years later—is proof of deep-rooted damage. Rasmussen’s devoted storytelling lends grace to the proceedings, but there’s a sense of sketchiness, both in the story and the cast of one-note characters whose problems are largely wiped away in an overwhelmingly sweet conclusion.
The delicate inventiveness that marked this author’s first novel is less apparent in her sentimental second.