I wasn’t quite prepared for the journey when I picked up The Echo Wife. It goes some pretty dark places, musing about the way people shape each other, the fingerprints we leave on each other — both metaphorically and for some people physically — and the way we re-enact our own traumas and fall into terrible patterns. Even the acknowledgements at the end are a hell of a thing: raw, truly thankful, but in some cases in a twisted way that hurts. Gailey has put a lot of pain into this book, and that could make it a really difficult read.
For me, though, it got its hooks into me and wouldn’t let go. I read it in two sittings — a whole 150 pages or maybe even more while my wife was on the phone with my parents-in-law. Okay, it must’ve been a long call, but wow.
I don’t want to say too much about the story, but it is not the kind of story where you necessarily end up liking the characters — all that matters is that you really get to understand the characters, the things that shaped them and the way they in turn shape their world. It’s a hell of a ride.
Sarah Gailey has a gift for writing books I can’t put down. I steamed through this one in two sittings, and read the whole thing in an hour and a half. Since my attention’s been awful lately, for most books, that’s enough for me to rate this pretty highly on enjoyment, even if I have a lot of lingering questions.
It starts with Alexis accidentally killing a boy she’s trying to have sex with at a party, and calling in her friends to help her fix the problem. They jump somewhat awkwardly to the idea of just getting rid of the body — and they have a somewhat unique method to do that, because they can all do magic, and they know how to work together. It doesn’t go as planned, though, leaving them with pieces of his body and his weirdly ice-cold, very slowly beating heart…
The rest of the book follows them as they get rid of the pieces and cope with the consequences of their magic: each of them loses something as they get rid of the pieces of the body, and of course, the boy’s absence is quickly spotted and the cops want to talk to everyone who was at the party, and also they all have their own little dramas. I have some questions about their reaction to the boy’s death — they don’t really know him, so it makes sense that they’re not distraught, but it felt like they were shockingly put together for a bunch of kids who had to dispose of pieces of a peer’s body. Not one of them seemed likely to crack under the strain. And yeah, I get that their friendship here is meant to be unshakeable, but it kind of made them sound like sociopaths, too.
I also have questions about what exactly happened to change Alexis’ magic. It’s clear it’s the first time her magic has got out of her control like that, and they never really do much about figuring it out. How do we know she isn’t going to endanger people more?
Overall, though, it was a lot of fun. I sped through it, and I loved that Alexis has two dads and a crush on a friend who happens to be a girl, and it’s just all part of these girls’ lives. I adore the tiny glimpses we get of what her parents were like when they met, and the fact that the family background to Alexis’ life feels real; they have a history that’s played out in the book, even though it is not the focus of the book. I’d have loved a little more of that for other characters (some of the group of girls, even), but I deeply enjoyed that it was there for Alexis’ family. That’s what makes characters feel real to me.
It’s Tuesday, and I’m joining in with Top Ten Tuesday for the first time in a few weeks! The theme this week is “books for your younger self”, and I can think of a whooole bunch of different ways to interpret that. I’m going with a list of books I wish I’d read sooner than I did!
The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. Okay, maybe this one’s cheating, but I’m reading this at the moment and being so annoyed at my slightly younger self for not jumping right on that.
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. This book has been such a comfort to me; teenage me could’ve really done with it.
Madam, Will You Talk?by Mary Stewart. Or really any Mary Stewart book; I was so snobby about romance novels, but reading Stewart and Heyer made me see. How much awesome could I have read if I started sooner?!
Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi. I feel like I’d have appreciated this even more if I’d read it when I was closer to the age it’s aimed at. I liked it now, but… I’d have liked it more then, I think.
An Unsuitable Heir, by K.J. Charles. Also one of the books that properly pulled me into romance, but this one is extra special because the existence of Pen as a character, as a person it was possible to be, would’ve possibly sped up figuring out some stuff for me.
Spillover, by David Quammen. Because it helped me figure out that staying curious about stuff really does help with anxiety — and maybe if I’d read it a couple of years earlier, some of my anxiety would have hit less hard. Or maybe it’d have chosen a different path, who knows.
Feet in Chains, by Kate Roberts. Or pretty much any Welsh classics, the existence of which I only discovered at the age of 21, having been told that Welsh people didn’t write anything worth reading.
River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey. I needed Hero. Much like Pen, they’d have taught me a bit more about what’s possible. Also, hippos.
Strange Practice, by Vivian Shaw. This is just so much fun, I’d have liked it to be in my life way before now.
Strong Poison, by Dorothy L. Sayers. Or the whole series, of course, but I can’t believe I only picked these up in my twenties. Though that’s partly because they were out of print, I think? I can’t imagine my mother wouldn’t have bought me them sooner if they were in print.
How about you? Anything you wish you’d read when you were younger?
Received to review via Netgalley; book due out 4th Feb 2020
A Western, but set in the future, in the American Southwest during war and oppressive government. The main character flees her home after the execution of her secret lover, Beatrice, for the possession of seditious literature. She runs away by hiding in the wagon of a group of Librarians — people who travel around distributing approved literature.
Naturally, the group turn out to be not-so-law-abiding, and Esther finds herself facing the law and learning all kinds of things she never thought she could. She also finds herself attracted to the trainee librarian of the group, who considers themself to be non-binary and just pretends to be female in towns, where it’s necessary. In some ways, it’s a fairly typical narrative and hits more or less the beats I expected, with Esther slowly growing in confidence and competence as the story rolls along. The ending comes along briskly and leaves the way open for plenty more in this world.
It’s a pleasant read, and I’m still pleased to see a non-binary character casually included in a place of prominence. The relationship between Esther and Cye seems a little fast for me, and I’d honestly have liked to learn more about Bet and Leda — and Amity, come to that — whose stories might perhaps have stood out a bit more. I enjoyed it, but as it’s settled in my mind, I realised that I hoped for more.