Thursday, January 28, 2016

Eleanor by Jason Gurley

There has been a great deal of discussion among well-established book bloggers in recent years about whether panning a book is quite the thing to do. I have certainly done so in the past, sometimes with great relish, but more often with a sense that even a book I could not abide was one that got published and one for which at least a few people plunked down their hard earned money to own. 

This stands in stark contrast to the dozens and dozens of books I have written which have seen light of day, and for which people have paid, of course. 

Any author -- even one who has written a lousy book -- gets a grudging amount of respect from me, because the author bothered to stay the course and put their homely child out there, front and center, and dodged ink-dripping slings and arrows from people like me. 

So that discussion began to niggle at me, and I began to tone down my pans. I make an intentional effort to find something of value in any book I finish, and to let you know what that was. I am not a compulsive book-finisher; if I am not engaged in the least, I don't hesitate to quit reading and pick up another in my pile. Of course, for years and years this was easy to do, since I walked into a bookstore full of books every working day. The Next Book was always just waiting right there. It's different now that I'm not doing that for a living anymore. What I have here at home is what I have. (Just like you people have been stuck with all this time.) 

This cruel fact won't likely change my habits overmuch, but it will surely keep me looking for a book's heart a bit longer than I might otherwise have spent. 

Such was the case with Jason Gurley's time and dimension bending novel, Eleanor.  This sentence from the blurb on the cover of the advance copy drew me in: 

This raw and beautiful story about the intensity of loss
and the complex relationships of families looks unflinchingly
at how grief can make us strangers to ourselves--and the 
unexpected ways in which family can save us. 

Having spent the better part of the past five years grieving personal losses, and coming to terms with the ways in which "grief can make us strangers to ourselves" in my own life, well, I just had to read this. 

A terrible accident claims the young life of Eleanor's identical twin, Esmerelda. Her mother, Agnes, retreats to bitterness and the bottle, and her father, Paul, leaves the family. While Eleanor's relationship with her father continues, it is a pale reflection of what it had been before the death of her sister. Gurley's deeply moving depiction of the family dynamic through the years that follow the accident had an emotional heft that suggests he is no stranger to the bitter wells of grief himself. 

I give nothing away when I tell you that Eleanor, as she grows, finds herself ripped from this world into other dimensions, many times over. During those absences from this world, time continues to pass, and when she returns to "us," it is often hours or days--or more--later. 

I could have traveled here with Gurley, except that the interludes of this second (or whatever ordinal number it might be) dimension began to bog things down considerably. These passages ceased to be mysterious and became laborious. During some of them I thought to stop reading the book entirely, but I had begun to have such a maternal need for things to work out for Eleanor in our world that I just didn't want to abandon her like her parents had done. 

When I was nearing the end I had a sense that when I finished I'd do so struck by the beauty and fresh insight that the novel, read in its entirety, had offered. Water, rivers, oceans, rain; all play pivotal roles in Eleanor. It would have been fitting, had I needed to wipe away a tear or two. 

I finished it last night. 

Dry as dust, my eyes were. 

I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you that Eleanor has been well and enthusiastically reviewed in other quarters. 


Publication date: January 2016
Crown Publishers

Postscript:  Years ago I read a novel that also made use of the imagery of moving water as an allegory for the natural cycles of life. It was extraordinary. That novel, written for young readers, was Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting. I read it as an adult, and it gets my enthusiastic recommendation.  

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