A writer’s parents have both died, and their physical space will be gone soon. Back at the family home near Boston, an estate sale will clear out belongings amassed by her parents during the decades of their lives. A real estate agent will list the home. But their memory—especially that of her mother, most recently deceased—lives on with the writer.
She wanders the streets of London, a meandering journey that takes her from the London Eye to museums to the theater. She is surrounded by people but rarely in conversation with them. Instead, she recalls a trip made with her mother, whose dramatic, colorful personality continues to keep the writer company.
Though she never introduces herself by name, the narrator of Elizabeth McCracken’s The Hero of This Book welcomes the reader to join her in processing her mother’s death. McCracken slips between action, memory and internal monologue, seamlessly exploring her narrator’s world with no border between the internal and external. The writer intersperses observations about the writing craft with these recollections. The genre of the resulting tale is certainly up for debate: Is it autofiction? Memoir? A novel? McCracken even inserts cheeky asides about what makes a book fiction, further confusing the line between narrator and author.
“I used to not believe in plot because I wasn’t interested: All my plots were about time,” she writes—and this novel follows that rule. “That might have been because not much had happened to me, not so much as a broken bone. Then a few things did befall me, and I understood plot in a different way: I discovered that a single event could alter the course of a life.”
Readers who enjoy tales of quiet, internal reflection will find themselves right at home here. Regardless of label, The Hero of This Book is a thoughtful exploration of the lived experience of grief.