We spread

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Turning the last page of this mesmerizing novel I was sorely tempted to begin the book all over again. Did I get the author’s intent? With an ending deliberately (and fiendishly) ambiguous, this book was quite likely the most tantalizing read I have encountered in a very long while.

Picture this: a catapulting flurry of pure dread, building with an intensity that simply does not let up, amidst a backdrop of puzzling, poignant and affecting characters – who may or may not be unwittingly part of something truly diabolical and dreadful – or simply exist metaphorically in what can only be seen as an aging and paranoid dementia-addled mind.

Whichever experience you settle on, this book is undeniably staggeringly brilliant.

Written in a simple and emotive prose in the first-person narrative voice of Penny, an elderly artist, the author achieves an immediacy which drops the reader, literally, into Penny’s frightening, yearning, desperately barren world – a first-hand experience ravaged with solitary aging, fear of death, and loneliness so profound it’s impossible not to be rattled.

As Penny faces her final years, alone and no longer deemed capable of independent living, she finds herself sequestered in a strange and mysterious long-term care home, a “choice” made for or with her former partner (now deceased), of which Penny has no memory.

And what a choice it is. Without giving the plot away (no spoilers here), Penny’s care, as captured in her staccato narration – streams of isolated thoughts, conversational snippets, and observations, fired at the reader, in rapid succession – escalating quickly into the downright menacing.

As the author wrestles with themes including infantilization of the elderly; the mathematical quandary that is infinity; the gravity-laden burden of our physicality; boundaries, individuality and the life-preserving spreading structure of groups; and the terror (shared by each of us) of aging, losing ourselves, and ultimately, running out of time.

Can a salvation of sorts be found in living for each precious moment, in union with friends and connections – spreading, expanding, growing, binding us forever? For after all, perhaps “there is strength in becoming part of something bigger than yourself“.

And “maybe, if we had all the time in the world, life would start to feel meaningless. Or worse”.

Heady thoughts, that for this reader, jockeyed for space in a mind so deeply unsettled by the unfolding story line (and the scramble to figure out what it all meant), that they will need to be revisited.

A thoroughly excellent book, a journey (however uncomfortable) that I would not have missed for the world.

Easily five shiny stars, (more if I had them), I loved this book and will have to read more of this brilliant and somehow (I don’t know how) formerly over-looked author.

A great big thank you to @Simon & Schuster for an ARC of this book. All thoughts presented are my own.

*This book will be published on Sept 27, 2022


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