The author of 10 previous books, including Stones From the River and Salt Dancers, Ursula Hegi was born in Germany and has won more than 30 grants and awards. In The Worst Thing I’ve Done, she explores a dicey situation in which one character, out of the unhappy depths of self-doubt and despair, prods others into an unforgettable and destructive act that decimates the emotional territory they all inhabit. These are not completely likable people, but they are recognizable in readers’ acquaintances and mirrors.
Perhaps it was inevitable. Making a twosome (Annie and Mason) out of what had been a childhood threesome (including friend Jake) was bound to cause trouble. It might have worked out if Mason hadn’t been so jealous of Annie, always one move beyond reasonable. But then again, maybe not, given Mason and Annie’s plunge into parenthood on the very day of their wedding, when a traffic accident killed Annie’s pregnant mother, leaving them to raise her premature baby. Parents too early, they found rage and confusion tearing at their marriage, and years later Annie decides reluctantly that she must leave her husband. Before she can act on her decision, he [does] the leaving for her. Recounted by several voices, the story is one of intricate relationships, in which a character sometimes risks destroying precious things simply to prevent others from doing so. Annie, an artist who creates collages that mirror her life and feelings, finds that her aesthetic urges simply cannot meet the demands of her heart. Only after months of intense labor does her work finally begin to respond to the healing that happens only with time and doggedness, so that the collages once more reflect the range of her emotions.
Although Hegi expresses in down-to-earth terms her impatience with certain 21st-century American political figures, an even more interesting feature of this book is her style. Surpassing that in some of her earlier books, Hegi’s prose often dances on a surreal shimmer of imagination invested with reality. Ocean allegories involving sand castles, fiddler crabs and luminous jellyfish challenge the reader to partner with them on the edge of dare to arrive eventually into a safe, if slightly exposed, harbor.