Thirteen years ago, the dean of my law school gave a speech on our orientation day about how what good lawyers do is to “turn the crystal” on the law – look at it from different angles, bend the light a little differently and see how a whole new world of ideas can open up just by virtue of a different perspective. I often thought of that long-ago lecture while reading this book, as I watched Moore turn the crystal on three people and how their lives intertwine under different sets of circumstances.
This slender volume could more accurately be described as a set of linked stories than a novel. Each “chapter” puts Benna, Gerard and Eleanor together in different iterations and looks at how their lives would shake out as small, or sometimes large, things about their histories are changed. It's an intriguing conceit for a set of stories – a literary, personal-scale version of the science fictional alternate universe trope.
Most of the stories are told from Benna's point-of-view, and it's Benna who is struggling to connect to Gerard, to Eleanor, or to herself. Moore has a gentle, self-deprecating style littered with jokes and puns and nuggets of wisdom that often felt like she was peering into my life and my heart and saying, “You are not alone in this.” I think Moore understands longing, loneliness and loss better than any other contemporary writer I've read. That alone is worth a five-star rating from me.
A few favorite passages:
Pg 4 - “But what do I know.” She smiled and shrugged. “I grew up in a trailer. It's not like a real family with a house.” This was her excuse for everything, her own self-deprecating refrain; she'd grown up in a trailer in upstate New York and was therefore unqualified to pronounce on any of the subjects she continued to pronounce on.
Pg 10 – This is why I was pleased: The lump was not simply a focal point for my self-pity; it was also a battery propelling me, strengthening me—my very own appointment with death. It anchored and deepened me like a secret. I started to feel it when I walked, just out from my armpit—hard, achy evidence that I was truly a knotted saint, a bleeding angel. At last it had been confirmed: My life was really as difficult as I had always suspected.
Pg 16 – Basically, I realized I was living in that awful stage of life between twenty-six to thirty-seven known as stupidity. It's when you don't know anything, not even as much as you did when you were younger, and you don't even have a philosophy about all the things you don't know, the way you did when you were twenty or would again when you were thirty-eight.
Pg 39 – But I believed in starting over. There was finally, I knew, only rupture and hurt and falling short between all persons, but, Shirley, the best revenge was to turn your life into a small gathering of miracles.
If I could not be anchored and profound, I would try, at least, to be kind.
Pg. 109 - People talk past us, we are invisible; when they say our name, if they really look at us, they don't mean it, they only want us to say anything, anything stupid, but our dark woman's voice, we know, would terrify.