Unconventionally structured debut novel about a conventional, but moving, life.
May Nilsson has had seven abiding loves in her long life, and each forms the subject of a chapter in this finely drawn and emotionally rich novel. The seven sections include the usual suspects—husband, son, lover and mother—but also throw in some surprising characters—a coworker from a temporary job May takes after retirement, her nursing-home aide and the police officer indirectly responsible for her son’s death. The chapters are not presented in chronological order; readers meet May after her retirement, and meet her lover before her husband, and her husband only after he has retired and suffered a heart attack. Although May’s mother dies very early in her life, the section devoted to May’s youth is the last, most important section of the novel. Rather than depicting the arc of one woman’s experiences as they shape and refine her personality, the book’s structure argues that each moment in an individual’s life represents an entire world in itself. People, for Trueblood, are powerfully present, perhaps never more so than when they try to come to terms with the past. Each of May’s seven loves elicits a different version of May, foregrounds different passions, intensifies different characteristics and desires. No matter that each chapter covers only a few weeks in her life, and that for the most part, Trueblood only gestures at the everyday routines that hold May’s character together; the whole trajectory of May’s life emerges in its fullness by the end. This is a rare assured and capable debut, filled with breathtaking turns of phrase and pulsing with the rhythm of experience, despair and love.
A masterful work—its emotional range and the poetry of its language evoke Virginia Woolf, and its attention to detail will remind readers of Anita Brookner’s work.