Saturday, January 17, 2015

Remodeling Eve, by Helen Kantor

I had the opportunity to read this novel in manuscript form a while back, and as an early reader I was eager to read the finished version, which came out this fall. Although I'm sure it has been tightened up in many ways I can't see, it remains much the same story, and I found that it held up well to a second look.

As the novel opens, Eve Tilden is contemplating not one but three looming issues in her life. First, her teenaged daughter Audrey is not keeping pace with her classmates when it comes to emotional maturity. Secondly, Eve's mother Daphne, a famous photographer, is slipping into dementia. And finally, the Tildens are remodeling their kitchen.

In some ways, though, these outside factors are really just a distraction from the fourth issue, which is that Eve is in the midst of something like a midlife crisis. One day, she comes across a box of her old t shirts, emblazoned with the names of rock bands she idolized as a teenager. She wonders how she lost the self that led such an exuberant life. Tentatively, Eve begins the process of reclaiming the person that she once was.

Into these interlocking experiences walks Nick, a contractor who also happens to be a rather stunningly attractive surfer. As he begins the process of remodeling the kitchen, both Eve and Audrey rev to life in his presence, and soon, Eve is making a rather surprising calculation about him.

What really brings this story to a different level, though, is that Eve's perspective is paralleled by Audrey's. If we only saw the story from the outside, we would find it hard to see Audrey as anything but the problem figure that she represents to her parents. But Audrey's perspective on the world is a very different one than ours, and the first person narrative here is strong enough to seduce us into taking the world on her terms. As parents, as teachers, as classmates,  everyone would like Audrey to be more normal. But Audrey is the granddaughter of another woman of unique vision and the road she ends up traveling will be very much her own.

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