There’s been time to think, and rethink, and she’s found that nothing is the same. With her mother gone and unaccounted for, everything is in question. Everything.
When Mary looks up into the night sky, she considers the object that might be the moon. People say there is a moon, but she does not know it for sure, and if she doesn’t know it for sure, why does she believe it?
Fifty-eight-year-old Mary lives alone with her mother, a 94-year-old survivor of the Armenian genocide. The two have an emotionally fraught relationship, sometimes crossing the line into contempt:
It’s regrettable that [Mary] feels such disrelish for her mother, but she can’t help it. Familiarity has bred contempt on both their parts—as she has often admitted to herself whilst watching her mother in the garden, squinting in the crepuscular light. Hunched over the flower-bed attending to her dear roses: blooms that are beautiful and fragrant beyond belief; blooms that must wince under her infirm and quivering touch.
Mary actually feels contempt for everyone to some degree, and as it turns out, others probably feel contempt for her in equal measure because Mary is prone to such odd behaviors as eating sponges and having screaming fits in her workplace. So when Mary’s mother mysteriously disappears, Mary has reason to believe that no one would listen to her pleas for help, and we the readers have reason to wonder if everything—or indeed anything—is as Mary says.
This novel is the debut of Lisa Glass, one of the book foxes at the fabulous book blog Vulpes Libris, and I was pleased to accept her offer of a review copy because I’d seen several reviews of it that intrigued me. I love books like this where you can never be quite sure what’s going on. Much of the book takes place in Mary’s own head, and despite her misanthropy and clear signs of serious mental illness, I came to like Mary. I felt for her, both in her loneliness and her illness, and over the course of the book she demonstrates an inner strength and determination that I couldn’t help but admire.
Of course, with Mary’s mind as the primary lens through which we see the situation, we often have to read between the lines, and in doing so, we learn things about her mother, Meghranoush, that give the relationship between the two characters added poignancy. The most striking piece of narration is no doubt Meghranoush’s account of the Armenian genocide, but I was almost more moved by the small details that showed how she has cared for her ailing daughter without Mary even knowing it.
When the narrative leaves Mary, as it does every few chapters, we find ourselves in the mind of the man and murderer who Mary believes has abducted her mother. This man has a tragic background of his own, and he’s left with a madman’s hunger for older women. These sections are vivid and well-written, but I found them the least original and interesting portions of the book. Certain aspects of his method are cleverly weaved into the story and lead to a brilliant payoff in the final line of the book, but for the most part, his story is a not-particularly-unusual account of abuse in childhood feeding into predatory impulses in later life. It’s not a serious problem with the book; these sections were sufficiently compelling to keep me reading. They just didn’t have the emotional force or originality of the sections focused on Mary.
The book is relatively short, only 217 pages, and I found it almost compulsively readable throughout. There were a few points toward the middle where I started wanting the story to move forward already, but it soon did, and I was absorbed once again. I suspect some people will find the writing to be overly descriptive, but I liked Glass’s style here. Somehow it suited Mary’s discursive mind, and the small details that may seem like filler (such as the roses in the quote above) often struck me as quite telling.
Overall, I found this to be a well-done debut, and I’m pleased I got a chance to read it. It’s yet another example of how the book-blogging world can alert us to great reads that aren’t making it into our local bookstores, and I’m grateful for that.