At the start of this quietly engrossing début novel, twenty-three-year-old Carrie Bell is tiring of her stalled life in Madison, Wisconsin, and her bland, relentlessly loving boyfriend of eight years' standing. When a dive into the local reservoir leaves him paralyzed from the neck down, she flees to Manhattan, where she takes shelter with a group of wannabe artists in a decaying Chelsea brownstone and falls for an elusive older man. The journey is a familiar one, but Packer fleshes it out with a naturalist's vigilance for detail, so that her characters seem observed rather than invented, and capable of mistakes that the author may never have intended. The result is genuine suspense, as Carrie feels her way toward the truth about herself, and what it means to be a moral being.
The New Yorker
Packer's engrossing debut novel begins without ostentation. On Memorial Day, Carrie Bell and her fiance, Mike Mayer, drive out to Clausen's Pier for their annual ritual, a picnic with their friends, a trip they make the way a middle-aged couple might, in grudging silence. Before their resentments can be aired, Mike dives into too shallow water, suffering injuries that change their lives. If Mike survives, he will survive as a quadriplegic, and Carrie faces unexpected responsibilities. Ultimately, Carrie does what is both understandable and unthinkable. She leaves her hometown of Madison, Wis., and shows up on the doorstep of a friend in New York City. There she discovers a different world, different friends and a different self. The hovering question what will Carrie do? Abandon Mike or return to him? generates genuine suspense. Packer portrays her characters both New Yorkers and Madisonites deftly, and her scenes unfold with uncommon clarity. But if Packer has a keen eye, she has an even keener ear. The dialogue is usually witty; more important, it is always surprising, as if the characters were actually thinking one of the reasons they become as familiar to the reader as childhood friends. The recipient of several awards, Packer is also the author of Mendocino and Other Stories. Clearly, she has honed her skills writing short fiction. What is unexpected is the assurance she brings to a larger canvas. In quiet but beautiful prose, Packer tells a complex and subtly constructed story of friendship, love and the hold the past has on the present. This is the sort of book one reads dying to know what happens to the characters, but loves for its wisdom: it sees the world with more clarity than you do.
When a young woman's fiancé dives into shallow water and becomes a quadriplegic, her future dramatically changes as well. Because she had doubts about the future of their long-term relationship before the accident, she is faced with a moral dilemma: be the long-suffering, loving, tragic girlfriend or pick up the pieces of her own life. First she chooses the expected role, but when the pressure becomes too much, she escapes to New York and makes a new life. How she reconciles her pre-accident and post-accident lives and deals with her guilt is the theme of the book. Two interesting aspects of the novel are the contrast between her Madison, Wisconsin life and her New York life and how important sewing is to her and to what happens to her. It's a little risky of the author to give her young heroine an interest as untrendy as sewing without making her seem a throwback to an earlier time. Instead, the reader will probably view her as a courageous and interesting character. The ending is a bit perplexing, but thought provoking. When an author leaves the reader thinking about the future of the characters, as if they have lives beyond the final page, that's a sign of good writing, and this book is full of good writing. Recommended for advanced students and adults.
Nola Theiss - KLIATT
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