JULIET WITTMANFICTION. MEMOIR. CRITICISM. JOURNALISM
Introducing Again & Again
About a fourth of the way into this quiet stunner of a novel set in Colorado, a nurse in her late 20s named Paula comes to a frightening realization that the most important people in her circle are likely to die soon of cancer, and it’s not the only heartache awaiting her. This is where a typical story plants its hook or reveals a quest. But there’s nothing that beats the odds, as even cancer isn’t the villain in this thoughtful novel about life and death, grief and love. In real life, there’s often a clear answer: One goes on, whether one chooses to or not. “Thread your arm through mine,” Paula imagines telling her friends and patients. “We’ll walk this together.” Readers who go on may be surprised at how effortlessly a mundane moment can turn into a scene that can leave them shaken. Paula’s circle includes 23-year-old Chloe Braverman, whose narrator voice alternates with Paula’s; Linda, a Christian woman with two young children about whom “there was something impermeable and too bright”; Doris, an older woman who’s led a full life and becomes a mother to them all; and Colin, a 3-year-old boy whose cancer is curable if the group can raise $250,000 for a bone marrow transplant. That quest, like most quests in the real world, is derailed by failures, cast aside by doubt, and picked up again and again. The characters emerge as three-dimensional: They’re not brave all the time, nor angry all the time, nor sure in their beliefs. They’re mercurial—certain and uncertain, by turns. They rely on one another and don’t always come through. They fail, they quit, they start again as the inevitable draws nearer. And then there’s the story’s horses—a metaphorical black horse of fear and a real-life animal in need of rescue.
True to its title, this novel contains several worthy endings and, on its last page, presents a new beginning.