CW: mention of suicide
One of my favorite jokes in the final season of the tv show 30 Rock was Liz Lemon’s revelation that she did a one-person play in college of which her student newspaper reviewed as “too confusing to be offensive.” Switching the word “offensive” to “appreciate” and you’d have my feelings on this book.
There’s a lot to like about this one. Heidi Julavits has a healthy understanding of relationships, maternal-child bonds and how difficult they are to sunder. I appreciated the ambiguity she allows for Julia, her main character, to feel about her mom, who (maybe?) committed suicide not long after Julia was born. Julia’s seeking after surrogate mothers was relatable and it made me feel deeply for her character even as I barely understood what was going on.
And perhaps that’s intentional because Julavits uses Julia to delve into the world of parapsychology, never making it clear if all of this is really happening or not. It’s unclear if even Julia believes it, as evidenced through her tumultuous relationship with her mentor Madame Ackermann, as well as the encounters she has with others in this weird world.
Julavits writes some interesting, well-described scenes, especially dream sequences and introspection. But the broader story is just impossible to connect with. This book was almost like reading smoke: every time I thought I had it figured out, it disappeared, only to reappear moments later. It made for an engaging but frustrating reading experience. It’s not a bad book, at least I don’t regret reading it. I just have no idea who I’d recommend it to.