Earlier this year, during a visit to M&S, my editor Anita told me about one of her other authors, Rebecca Rosenblum. She's a bit like you, Anita said. She knows everything about her characters, even the minor ones, and they like to show up in multiple stories.
A writer after my own readerly heart, I thought. Rebecca's debut novel was about to come out and Anita gave me a copy. Last week, I cracked it open. So Much Love is incredible, utterly devastating. Quiet, meditative, and simultaneously a compulsive read. In the last fifty pages, I couldn't put it down. Even when it was time to call my husband who I hadn't seen in a week, still I couldn't set the book aside.
At its heart is an abduction - a young woman is snatched from a parking lot after dark. For months no one knows where Catherine Reindeer has gone or if she's alive. Then the mystery is solved and everyone in her life must cope with the consequences.
Catherine lives in a small town and her disappearance affects everyone in it - her husband, her mother, co-workers, an English professor, a highschool girl she never met. Their stories are relayed in first person and third, giving us glimpses into these other lives while sketching a picture of the missing woman. The kidnapper has his say in second person, a point of view cannily chosen to make the reader complicit. In a lesser author's hands the device might have been coy but Rosenblum pulls it off with a dexterity that would make Nabokov proud.
Woven through Catherine's narrative is the story of her favourite poet, Juliana Ohlin, who died twenty years earlier, murdered, everyone believes by her boyfriend. The menace of men - strangers, intimates - looms large over the book but it is never suffocating. Because there are other themes here too: resilience, bravery, hope. The question of who a person becomes when pushed to the brink, how far you would go to survive, the value of rage when there is no one to rage at.
There's nothing lurid here, no cringeworthy gore. Instead, the prose is precise and emotion is at the fore. Every word, every nuanced thought, feels familiar and correct.
Neither novel nor story collection, So Much Love evades neat categorization - and is stronger for that defiance. Rosenblum wields the subtle pen of the short story writer, revealing through her interconnected stories just the tip of the iceberg. Always there is sense that there's more to tell about these characters, other details and anecdotes that didn't make the cut. As a reader I want to rummage through her recycling bin. As a writer I envy her restraint.