Because I can’t resist anything with the name “Eleanor” on it, I picked up Jason Gurley’s new novel Eleanor from the mystery shelf at the public library. I had to read it all in order to figure out what the mystery is about—an unsatisfying mix of realism with an extremely individualistic mysticism.
Basically, Eleanor the grandmother drowns herself in the ocean while pregnant, her daughter Agnes has twin girls named Eleanor and Esmerelda, and Esmerelda dies at the age of six in a car crash that Eleanor and Agnes survive, and then granddaughter Eleanor—the character we care about and follow through the first half of the book—gets literally pulled into her dead relatives’ version of purgatory and her parents’ dream worlds.
The first time it happens, it’s when Eleanor walks through a doorway leaving the high school cafeteria: “at the very last moment, she feels something subtle and strange, as if she is made of metal and some magnetic force is tugging her toward it. The tiny hairs on her arms and neck lift up. There is a sharp smell; the air sizzles. Before she has a moment to truly consider any of this, she steps through the doorway—is, frankly, almost yanked through it—and then Eleanor is no longer in the cafeteria, no longer in her high school, no longer even in Oregon at all.”
Eleanor’s dead twin, who calls herself Mea but remembers being Esmerelda, brings Eleanor to the place she is, called “the rift” and tells her it’s “so we can set things right.” It’s not clear what this means for a long while. Is it so the parents can live in their separate dream worlds, undamaged by the knowledge that one of the twins has died? At one point, it seems that our heroine Eleanor has died, but then grandmother Eleanor becomes the ocean and declares that she “will see my family restored.” To do this, she goes into her daughter’s dream world and makes her feel better, while Eleanor and Esmerelda become dinosaurs and swim out to sea together, where they see “the reset” and then the book ends almost where it began, except that grandmother Eleanor comes back from her swim, rather than drowning in the ocean.
I felt rather silly for getting invested at all in the life of Eleanor the granddaughter, especially because of Eleanor’s poor boyfriend, who is left with some kind of vague psychic message about where Eleanor has gone. Maybe he’ll eventually meet her “again” in the reset world, but it’s really unsatisfying to be left free to imagine that they will still meet and have enough in common to feel the same bond. It’s also not clear whether Eleanor’s aunt Gerry will get her dead sons back in the reset world. Is this a world in which no one Eleanor cared about can ever die? If so, is it a dream? Does anything in this fiction matter?
My advice would be not to let it. Leave the book on the shelf.