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April 21, 2016

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.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 21, 2016 2:01 pm

    Leave the book on the shelf? Too bad it turned out to not be that great. You have performed a public service for the rest of us by letting us know 🙂

  2. April 21, 2016 8:21 pm

    I don’t think I’d like those other worlds Eleanor is pulled into. I don’t think this is my kind of book.

    • April 22, 2016 9:26 am

      Except for “the rift” they are her parents’ dream worlds, but you don’t know that for a while. The book is more interested in depicting realism than it is in depicting fantasy.

  3. April 21, 2016 8:34 pm

    Oh good. I will then. I loved this cover and had heard some good things about the book, but on the other hand I hate reading dead sister stuff. I am very fond of my alive sisters and do not like contemplating their mortality.

    • April 22, 2016 9:28 am

      You might credit the almost-supernatural bond between the twin sisters more than I did, but this is definitely dead sister stuff, all of it.

  4. April 22, 2016 10:05 am

    Well, OK, then. For a change, one to take off the TBR list! 😉

    • April 22, 2016 10:13 am

      I’d say so. Let the time I spent reading this suffice for you, too.

  5. April 23, 2016 7:55 am

    That’s too bad you didn’t like this more!

    • April 23, 2016 8:53 am

      And I might have, if it wasn’t like everything in the world conformed to this particular woman’s (Grandmother Eleanor’s) do-over.

  6. April 28, 2016 5:54 am

    There’s definitely a line between knowing just enough not enough and it seems this book doesn’t make the right side. Would you give the author another chance or is it a no go after this?

    • April 28, 2016 9:01 am

      I’d try something else by this author–he kept me reading past the point where the plot stopped working for me! I didn’t pick up the book because I knew anything about him, though.

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