Ten months after her mother's death, the narrator takes a trip to London. The city was a favorite of her mother's, and as the narrator wanders the streets, she finds herself reflecting on her mother's life and their relationship. Thoughts of the past meld with questions of the future: Back in New England, the family home is now up for sale, its considerable contents already winnowed. The woman, a writer, recalls all that made her complicated mother extraordinary, and finds herself wondering how her mother had endured. Even though she wants to respect her mother's nearly pathological sense of privacy, the woman must come to terms with whether making a chronicle of this remarkable life constitutes an act of love or betrayal.
The essence of her fiction: seemingly nonsensical and yet making perfect sense. The world, strange in the first place, is often made stranger by our minds. McCracken captures the twilight zone between consciousness and subconsciousness, where intuitions are not yet filed away, impulses not yet stifled ... This is a novel about loss and grief; a novel about resilience and renewal; a novel about a mother-daughter relationship; a novel about writing. These descriptions depict the book the way I was taught to draw a bird in kindergarten: a circle for the head, an oval for the body, two triangles for the wings. But McCracken is one of those fleet-footed writers who will never be trapped, or even reliably tracked, by aboutness ... Reading McCracken’s fiction, I often fall into a kind of conversation that does not happen in life, as though the characters and I have met mid-thought: no need for small talk; no need to anchor ourselves in time or space ... A reader, catching a glimpse of their own hidden self in McCracken’s characters, experiences a moment of liberated feeling, as though they have gained a new status, become smarter, more honest, more courageous ... The secret of McCracken’s writing, one may venture to say, is her relationship with her characters. She knows and loves them: body and soul.
... soulful, melancholy ... McCracken deftly evokes how so many of us feel about our mothers: that they are just there, and always there, and that any intimation that they were not always there or weren’t ever just as they are is an affront to the primacy of their connection to their child. Many children will never forget the moment they realized that their mother was a separate human being, who made mistakes and had faults and foibles all their own, separate from their own selves. This existential shock reverberates throughout McCracken’s book, coupled with the shock of that mother no longer being there ... In this vivid composition, McCracken paints the final layer of the portrait of the mother she has so painstakingly drawn in the preceding pages ... 'Don’t trust a writer who gives out advice,' McCracken warns in the first chapter. But the irony is, her words create an exquisite alchemy that makes a reader ready to follow her anywhere, believe every word she writes down. Is this book a novel or is it a memoir? It matters not at all. With every vital, potent sentence, McCracken conveys the electric and primal nature of that first fundamental love.
Many of McCracken’s characters, like her novels, have a way of doing this: they reel you in with a joke, a wink, or a dry remark. They tremble with emotional vulnerability (or make you tremble in recognition). All the while, they retain a core of mystery, which is part of their charm ... Playful, mythic, and mysterious ... Evidence of what an alternative strategy to remembrance can offer, and the narrator’s mother, in all her imagined glory, emerges in tender specificities.