I joke sometimes that I wish I could turn into my great grandmother with her big kitchen table at which she turned produce into preserves with such competence. EE Ottoman’s The Companion is really tapping into that desire. It’s also reminding me that Granny canned fruits and vegetables so that her family would have enough to eat, not because she thought it was fun.
Set in 1949, Madeline Slaughter is on her way to a small town in up-state New York, exhausted and demoralized from trying to make a career as a writer in New York City. A friend has arranged for her to be a companion to a reclusive mystery writer, Victor. It sounds a little bit like a set up for a gothic romance, but it is not. Victor is kind and gives Madeline space and time to recover. Out walking in the woods, Madeline meets Audrey, a woman like her. Madeline builds relationships with Victor and Audrey and as she grows more secure in her safety, the urge to write returns.
The process of going from an unsafe place to a safe place is it’s own kind of pain, and Ottoman allows Madeline to move through that pain with compassion. Victor and Audrey have both experienced it as well and give Madeline the grace she needs to go through it.
“I am good at being hurt and bad at being loved.”
The Companion is a gentle story. Madeline, Victor, and Audrey build a life where they are safe to be themselves. The world of the story is small, three characters, two houses and the field and forest next to them. The smallness is a bubble of safety for the three characters – all trans. Their lives though are vast and rich in imagination – all are artists. The details of the food that Madeline prepares and that she and Audrey preserve, the details of the texture of their clothing, the light, and the scents around them give a sense of sanctuary rather than restriction. As lyrical as The Companion is, Ottoman does not neglect the moments of humor.
I don’t usually comment on the cover of a book, but in this case, I have to say, the interior is as beautiful as the exterior.
I received this as an advance reader copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.