This second novel by Walsh (The Last Will of Moira Leahy, 2010) centers on two sisters—one with synesthesia and one with a pragmatic outlook—as they recover from the suicide of their mother.
In Tramp, W.Va., 18-year-old Olivia comes home to find her mother, Beth, in the kitchen with the gas oven on and the pilot light off. Olivia refuses to believe it was suicide—after all, her mother often used the oven for heating—but no one else is deluded. How could they be when Beth Moon suffered from severe depression and anxiety for 20 years? Six months later, the family is still reeling: Their father has taken to heavy drinking, Olivia has gone partially blind from staring at the sun, and sister Jazz has found herself a job in, of all places, a funeral home. Because of a dream, Olivia wants to take her mother’s ashes to the Cranberry Glades. Beth, an aspiring writer, got pregnant in college and was subsequently disowned by her father. In between bouts of depression, Beth was writing a fairy tale set in the Glade—an unfinished story about identity and forgiveness. Olivia thinks some destiny will be fulfilled if she brings her mother’s ashes there and she sees the legendary will-o’-the-wisp. Jazz thinks this is all foolishness but has been helping Olivia all her life. Olivia’s synesthesia (a neurological condition in which people can “see” sound and “taste” visual stimuli, etc.) has made her the dreamer, the one who lifted their mother’s mood, the one prone to impulse. When their van breaks down on the way to the Glade, Olivia hops a train, and Jazz furiously follows. There, they are introduced to train culture, and Olivia meets Hobbs, a 20-year-old train hopper with a face covered in tattoos. He agrees to bring Olivia to the Cranberry Glades, but Jazz has other plans. Though Walsh creates a vivid journey for the two sisters, they both speak and act, as does Hobbs, far older than their years, resulting in a less-than-believable coming-of-age tale.
An uneven mix of magic and sorrow, from a promising writer.