Readers of Connie May Fowler's earlier novels, including Before Women Had Wings, will recognize some familiar elements in this, her fifth: her unique blend of lyrical prose and mysticism, musings on the power of love and the devastation caused by its loss, and a deft portrayal of the resilient bonds of friendship.
In a manner reminiscent of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, the opening scene of Fowler's latest depicts the death of the protagonist 35-year-old Murmur Lee, who drowns under mysterious circumstances in a north Florida river. The narrative is then taken up by the friends Murmur left behind as they try to adjust to life without her. Fowler has crafted a memorable cast of these secondary characters, and through their eyes the reader comes to know Murmur herself. Her best friend from childhood is Charlee Mudd, who returns from Harvard Divinity School and a broken engagement for Murmur's funeral, and ends up staying. Others in their group of "buddies" include Dr. Zach, who lost his wife to cancer and now feels somehow responsible for Murmur's death; Edith, a transsexual former Marine still fighting visions of Vietnam; Lucinda, a local artist and yoga teacher; Hazel, the bartender at Murmur's bar; and Billy, Murmur's boyfriend, who was on the boat with her on New Year's Eve 2001, the night she died.
In chapters alternating with those in her friends' voices, Murmur recalls scenes from her past, including the death of her seven-year-old daughter from leukemia. She is also able to see things she never knew on earth, such as the fact she was the product of her mother's rape at last an explanation for her father's lifelong indifference to her. Halfway through the novel, the central question becomes clear: was Murmur's death accidental, a suicide or something else? The truth, perhaps slightly contrived, does come out in the end. With an engaging cast and a lush Florida setting, Fowler's latest novel offers poignant reflections on what keeps us together, even after the separation of death. Deborah Donovan writes from Cincinnati and La Veta, Colorado.