Opening line: ‘She sits in the breakfast nook and watches the rain.’
Eleanor — there are two Eleanors, herself and the grandmother she was named after — does her best to live a normal teenager’s life while also taking care of her alcoholic mother. Tragedy seems to run in her family: her grandmother’s disappearance, the car crash that killed her twin sister, her parents’ divorce, her mother’s bitter and angry retreat from reality through alcohol. The tragedy continues when Eleanor herself disappears, first for hours, then days, then years at a time, with no rational explanation for what is happening to her. What she does know, however, is that there is a reason she keeps being transported to these different dream worlds, if only she could figure out what it is…
The novel Eleanor isn’t quite sci-fi or fantasy, but rather magical realism. The narrative tells the story of this troubled family from multiple perspectives: the first Eleanor, her daughter Agnes as an adult, the younger Eleanor, as well as Agnes’s husband, Eleanor’s friend Jack, and a mysterious consciousness that is outside of human time but has the power to pluck Eleanor from her world and drop her into another. What first caught my attention was the descriptions of the sea off the Northwestern American coast, then by the author’s skillful portrayal of the characters as fully human and flawed. Eleanor does not figure out what is going on until the final quarter of the book, but even then I wasn’t sure what she was trying to do as she continued to travel the dream worlds to heal her family’s hurts. Thus intrigued, I kept reading, but in the end I felt my curiosity was unrewarded. The ending was too tidy while simultaneously leaving many unanswered questions. Somehow, with a form of time travel left unexplained, a fateful moment is changed with the assumption that all following events will also change for the better: no car crash, no divorce, no alcoholism. But what will be the consequences of that change? Not just for that family, but for everyone connected to them? Are the consequences ‘worth it’? Ultimately, I was disappointed that the novel failed to grasp the complexity of changing a person’s timeline and that doing so is not the simple cure for one family’s troubles.
I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.