In twenty three connected exquisite moments (or stories) the novel constructs a map of loss, its creative potential, its capacity to tear open the world, trouble boundaries, and dust the daily with wonder. In The Fifth Woman, grief is queer-as-in-odd, as in boundary-blurring, as in otherways loving, as in curious: Shadows come to life, dead deer talk back, a person you know is dead or fictional or both feels realer than anyone you’ve ever loved. To visit this narrator’s grief, a world cracked open by absence, is to find a different way of seeing ... the narrative goes on in the Beckettian sense, every day standing on its own, making its own kind of sense of the world, illuminated by small miraculous quotidian ... Sometimes the novel’s loneliness is so rich, it reads like a mystery to which we keep discovering clues: fragments of letters, a strange face in the mirror, offering hands, a growing crack, as if answers or Michelle or even Jesus might walk out at any moment and explain what’s going on, and how it is that a person can just be gone, and what to do about it ... You come to The Fifth Woman to remember why it is that you make words or stories or art, and the closeness of the creativity of grief to the process of art ... You finish it and then you turn back to the front page and begin again.
Short vignettes of her life...make up a sort of loosely connected collage of her grief. But in Caspers’ telling, this mourning is chronicled less as an explicit analysis of what is lost, and instead as quietly affecting scenes of a strange, painful and unusually beautiful version of the world that has opened as a result. The afternoon sun appears to shine in the middle of the night; a mysterious shadow of a dog plays companion; in her apartment over an alley she meets comforting strangers who seem almost like imagined characters.
The mundane becomes poetic in Nona Caspers’s novel-in-vignettes, The Fifth Woman. Its atmosphere of grief is established with tight, beautiful prose ... The book is a feast of atmospheric details, including everything down to the physical attributes of the narrator’s apartment. Her loss is not sentimentally dealt with; it is all the more devastating as a result ... More than anything, the story is told with control. There are no wasted words. The text itself is a pleasure; its sparseness leaves room for imagination. Verb choices in particular convey the narrator’s gut-wrenching emotions while demonstrating her ability to heal by connecting to the natural world’s flora and fauna ... the book’s conclusion is realistic, complex, and moving.