Gravity Well by Melanie Joosten
Since sharing a house in their student days in Canberra, Lotte and Eve have been able to tell each other anything. Both only children, they bonded like sisters, despite their diverging interests: Lotte’s passion for astronomy; Eve’s for mountain biking and constructing soundscapes. They have buttressed each other through the breakup of Eve’s relationship with the charismatic narcissist Nate, Lotte’s marriage to Vin and the death of her mother but now, in their late 30s, they’re estranged.
We first meet the women in the near-enough present day (2015), each confronting a devastating situation but unable to call upon the other for support. Lotte is returning to Australia after a five-year research job stargazing in the Atacama desert, her marriage over and facing a diagnosis of the cancer that killed her mother. Wracked with grief and self-recrimination, Eve has abandoned small town life to take her tent to the coast, despite the winter weather’s unsuitability for camping.
Chapters alternating between each woman’s story, the narrative goes back and forth in time to the shocking reveal. Although the time jumps didn’t jar me as a reader, they’ve made it a little more difficult as a reviewer to summarise the story without giving too much away. So you’ll have to take it on trust that Melanie Joosten’s second novel is a poignant tale of the complications of attachment to friends and family (although I thought the resolution a bit rushed). It’s a plus to come across another fictional female scientist undertaking inspiring research although I had doubts about summoning an emergency counsellor). Thanks to Scribe publications for my review copy.
The Gravity of Love by Noëlle Harrison
It’s March 1989 when the Arizona desert plays host to the Northern Lights. Amid the couples who’ve driven out of town to witness the phenomenon, two strangers connect. Back in Scottsdale they bump into each other again, the Englishman clearly recognisable by his accent, the woman who’s lived there all her life by her blue cowboy boots.
Joy and Lewis sense their mutual attraction, but are too loyal to their marriage vows to be more than friends. Yet their paths seem irrevocably intertwined: within a couple of weeks chance has them boarding the same flight to Dublin via New York. She’s looking for the Irish woman who gave her up for adoption as a two-year-old; he’s looking for the lover he abandoned in London twenty-two years before.
Without realising it, Joy and Lewis are also seeking the courage to escape their self-imposed constraints. Along with his youth in London, he has left behind his potential as a graphic designer while she has neglected her own ambition – to establish a business designing desert gardens – in order to be a good wife. Both are overshadowed by absent fathers: Joy still shocked from the death of hers a year before; Lewis growing up without one and feeling overly responsible for his wayward sister.
While some of the elements of mystery were predictable, a few took me pleasantly by surprise. Although I think most readers would recognise the roots of Lewis’s sister’s mental health issues long before he does, duplicitous Irish nuns were spared from shouldering the blame for Joy’s adoption. The plot’s reliance on coincidence didn’t bother me, and I enjoyed the reactions to the small rainy island of Ireland of a woman who’d never left Arizona.
But overall I felt there was a tighter, more subtle story trapped within the almost 400 pages of fairly lacklustre prose, and was surprised to find this was Noëlle Harrison’s sixth novel (not counting a trilogy published under a pen name). But a different type of reader, especially one who believes in destiny, might love it. Thanks to Black and White Publishing for my advance proof copy.
This week’s flash fiction challenge proved particularly challenging for this writer. What could I say about the charisma of cranes? What post-in-waiting could I pair it with? Thankfully, the net has stuff to say about cranes and gravity as well as the scarcity of the species in the UK. I batted the ideas across to my WIP character Henry, whom we last encountered on the cricket pitch, and this is the result:
Henry watched from the attic window as the yellow crane dipped its neck towards the earth. Strange! Hadn’t they finished the foundations last week?
A bird crossed the sky above the building site; it seemed much larger than the usual pigeons and gulls. Quieter too. And beautifully balanced. A heron would fly with its neck tucked into its shoulders, but this was cruciform. Symmetrical. Could it be a crane?
Hadn’t those charismatic birds died out in this part of the world? If they were returning, perhaps his sister would too. The new houses, hitherto unwelcome, would summon her home.