In the latest from the author of Our Endless Numbered Days and Swimming Lessons, a dying woman looks back on a troubling summer 20 years earlier, in 1969, when her work researching the architecture and grounds of a decrepit mansion introduces her to an attractive bohemian couple that soon becomes her obsession.
Fuller...is a master of propulsive action, making the ground spin as each unreliable narrator takes center stage. Every measured sentence...builds on itself with the crumbling estate providing the saturated backdrop for this ultimately macabre tale. A distracting plot element or two notwithstanding, Fuller’s tale offers a gripping and unsettling look at the ugly side of extreme need and the desperate measures taken in the name of love.
Bitter Orange explores the stories we invent in order to bear enormous pain or guilt. Fuller, who is also an artist, can be tremendously subtle, and our perception can spin on a single, dissonant detail: a stray hair on a pillow, a noise beneath the bath. Vivid visual images also build an oppressive, off-kilter atmosphere ... This sort of thing is so good that it makes the standard gothic tropes—a dead bird, a mausoleum, a ghostly face at an attic window—feel heavy-handed. The denouement slinks close to melodrama, and therefore feels slightly disappointing. But the real interest lies in the fascinating gaps and contradictions, the complexity of the characters and the thematic richness.
Fuller is impressive on physical detail, even when her story becomes a little crowded with subplot (a mysterious pregnancy, hints of the supernatural, sexual dysfunction, a hidden treasure trove and even the Beatles in Dublin all make appearances). Her description of Frances processing down a rickety spiral staircase for her first dinner with Peter and Cara, rigged out in her mother’s appallingly unyielding foundation garments and what sounds like a full-on ballgown, is agonisingly well realized ... She also has a talent for the sinister ... In some respects, the pudding can feel overegged; although not unexplored territory, the relationship of a single woman to a couple whom she idealizes and feels drawn to as a unit, rather than as two individuals, is rich enough to make additional devices and embellishment unnecessary ... These are small caveats, for Fuller is an accomplished and serious writer who has the ability to implant interesting psychological dimensions into plotty, pacy narratives.