“Eleanor has been ripped out of time . . .”
Without that one little sentence on the cover, it would be easy, initially at least, to lose one’s genre bearings in the opening 70 pages or so of Jason Gurley’s Eleanor. The prologue and subsequent sections each present the reader with an efficient, though not rushed, snapshot of consecutive tragedies in one family. Connected by more than just the bloodline, each of these episodes is the sort of material from which weepy, sweeping family sagas are made. That Eleanor is, ultimately, exactly that—a sweeping family saga—should not detract from the fact it is also much, much more. These opening blows grant an intimate knowledge of the damage done by the past to the title character in the present, even as it primes the reader to desperately hope the events that follow will allow, somehow, mortal wounds to be redressed.
These opening sequences are worth lingering on for a few reasons. Beyond the need to establish reader trust, they also capture the often hard-to-grasp dilemmas of depression and motherly ambivalence with an ease and economy that pretty much “pay the toll” a reader demands from a writer to keep turning the page, no matter the genre. One could stop at the end of these alone—granted, that would be a pretty depressing place to halt—and deem this a novel worth the time.
Fortunately, there remains the whole “Eleanor being ripped out of time” thing. With past literally as prologue, Gurley turns the reader’s attention to his protagonist, a mostly isolated teenager and, in ways she cannot fully comprehend just yet, a devastated vestige of past parental mishaps and mistakes. Eleanor makes do, serving as caretaker for a mother whose anger has long since chased her father away, until one stressful day she walks through a door and . . . is somewhere else.
Eleanor (and the reader) will spend the rest of the book trying to figure out exactly what is happening, and who might be involved in causing it, but this story is not a Calgon-take-me-away escape to Narnia, the Land or Wonderland. If Eleanor wants a new world, she may have to make it herself. As for the reader, Gurley has crafted an appealing little puzzle. Whether that solution is metaphysical, spiritual, magical or scientific in nature, I’m not saying. Read it for yourself.