Web of Angels/Lilian Nattel: Reflections

Monday, February 13, 2012

I have never met Lilian Nattel, but I feel I know her.  The rink where she skates.  The sound of her kids' laughter.  The way she sees the world in which she lives.  The photographs that thrill her.  I read and loved her international sensation, The River Midnight I celebrated when her new book, Web of Angels, was bought by Knopf Canada.  I was honored, a few short weeks ago, when a copy showed up in my mailbox.  I opened to the first page.  I was stunned by the opening lines.  I thought I knew Lilian Nattel.  But new books teach us new things about a writer's powers.

I have never read a book like this one.  You haven't either.  It's brave, unblinking, categorically generous despite a most heartbreaking subject matter.  With Web of Angels, Lilian isn't just exploring dissociative identity disorder—a condition that affects far more "ordinary" human beings than I had previously known.  Lilian is inhabiting the mind of a woman in whom multiples live, which is to say that she is teaching us what it is like when several personalities—male and female, young and middle aged—argue for space inside the same body. 

Sharon Lewis lives in a pleasant Canadian community called Seaton Grove.  She is a mother of three, a loved wife, a friend.  For years she has battled back the divisions in her own mind, but when a pregnant neighborhood teen kills herself and secrets begin to unravel, Sharon Lewis unravels, too.  She blacks in and out of the familiar and strange.  She struggles to save the dead girl's sister from a terrible and too-familiar haunting.  To save the girl, she'll have to reveal her true selves.  She'll have to rely on them to help her piece together truth.

There are big themes in this book.  Big ideas.  But what makes the whole so spectacular is how Lilian cushions the ugly things inside a beautiful, resilient domestic world.  As awful as the secrets are, Web of Angels thrives because of the way that Lilian tells the tale.  Those searing household details.  Those absolutely true snatches of conversation that happen among kids, between adults, inside the quiet of a therapist's room.  It's not just the first page of this book that is so beautifully written.  It's every page. 

For example:

The baby's eyes were unfocused, her gaze not following theirs but open, large, taking in the light around objects as much as the objects themselves, for she was still closer to the source of life than the material world.

I know you want more.  I will satisfy your craving:

Pipes rattled upstairs as water flushed down, flowing into larger pipes laid underground a hundred years ago when Seaton Grove's bylaws stipulated that no whole sheep or hogs or geese were allowed to run free in the streets on pain of a ten-cent fine.  Before that the roots of a forest intertwined and Garrison Creek flowed between ferns.  Now pipes connected the houses on either side, across the street, around the corner, their sewage led far away.  That was how civilized people handled sh*t: pipe it; bury it. And they sacrificed the creeks, the streams, the living waters in order to do it, their land dry and quiet except for the sound of the sprinklers.

Web of Angels is due to be released in just a few weeks.  I urge you to consider spending time with this novel, and while you wait, please spend time here, on Lilian's web site, where I learned a lot listening to Lilian talk about this real and painful disorder.

3 comments:

Lilian Nattel said...

Thank you, Beth--this is one to save and cherish!

Becca said...

Looking forward to reading this even more...

Serena said...

this sounds like a very complex and satisfying read

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