Today. August 1, the Back Woods.
A mildewed book of poetry lies open on the table. “To a skylark,” soaring into the blue – painful, thrilling – replays in my mind as I stare at the still life of last night’s dinner. “The world should listen then, as I am listening now.” He read it so beautifully. “For Anna.” And we all sat there, spellbound, remembering her. I could look at him and nothing else for eternity and be happy. I could listen to him, my eyes closed, feel his breath and his words wash over me, time and time and time again. It is all I want.The Paper Palace, by Miranda Cowley Heller
This book is painful, it’s disturbing, it’s very hard to read as the story takes dark twists and turns. But it is also an addictive and compelling page-turner.
On the morning of 1 August, Elle Bishop walks out of her family’s holiday home in the Back Woods to take a swim in the lake. In the water she remembers the previous night and an incident with her best-friend since childhood, Jonas. It is an incident that has been years in the making.
We then read about Elle’s birth in December 1966:
1966. December, New York City.
I am screaming. I scream and gasp until, at last, my mother realizes something is wrong. She races with me to the doctor’s office, imagining herself Miss Clavel as she runs up Park Avenue, terrified, clutching her three-month-old baby. My father is racing, too, briefcase in hand, up Madison Avenue from the Fred F. French Building. thoughts stammering, afraid of his own impotence, now, as in everything he does.The Paper Palace, by Miranda Cowley Heller
The book continues to flash between the 1 August, as Elle thinks about Jonas and the choice she now has to make between him and her husband, Peter, and her life up until that day. It’s an absorbing novel, the chapters and flashbacks short and snappy, leaving you wanting more. I couldn’t put the book down even though Elle’s childhood recounts abuse and heartbreak that her father could not provide more for her. Her mother and her sister, and her relationship with her own children are all so fascinating to read about.