A young husband flees from his newlywed bride in 1898.
On Thomas Griffith “Grif” Smolders’ wedding night, a ball of lightning chases him out of his hotel window. But even after the ghostly orb fizzles out, Thomas keeps running. It isn’t hard to see why. He’s clearly no match for his better half, Avice, who had "enchanted and stolen him" and is now waiting in the next room for him to get up “the nerve to open that door and see her, behold her, stretched out naked on the bed. The gift of herself too beautiful for wrapping.” Headstrong and vain, she naturally takes his disappearance hard, vows revenge, and gives chase. In the grand tradition of the picaresque, Canadian author Griggs (Thought You Were Dead, 2009, etc.) throws up one obstacle after another in front of our hero: a con man, a shipwreck, a family of grotesque and maybe murderous bumpkins. Every one is nearly as dangerous as Grif’s bride, who is coming up fast behind him. The narrative goes back and forth between husband and wife, spending more time with Grif. That’s a shame because he is a bit of a snooze, more interested in insects than introspection, whereas the novel picks up whenever Avice appears. Griggs’ style also slows the pace of the story. Ornate, even baroque descriptions pile up on every page. Sometimes Griggs hits on a splendid formulation (Avice’s hats are “trim and stylish, functional as punctuation”) but too often she reaches for one clause too many: “Her voice was level, and had heft, as if weighted like a sling with a chunk of rock or glass—something that might hurt if she lobbed it at you.” It only delays the final confrontation that Avice (and the reader) is eagerly awaiting.
It’s a zany tale that doesn’t need its overwrought style.