review by Meg ***** 5-stars
I want to do this review right. I want to capture all of the joy and wit and humor and heartbreak in this novel. I want to share the layers of plot and narrative that compel you to read the story. And I want to revel in the dozens of underlined quotations and scribblings in my copy as I wonder at how Jaclyn Moriarty managed to capture my life – OUR lives – with its fragments of memory and philosophical musings and moments of parental and relational frustration.
But you probably don’t have that much time.
So instead, I’ll share a brief synopsis (for those that need some bait to snap at) and then why this is (as I predicted) my now favorite read of the summer.
Gravity is the Thing centers around Abigail “Abi” Sorenson and flashes between her present-day-in-2010 life and various points from the past 20 years. In 1990, within a few days, Abi both receives a letter in the mail inviting her to subscribe to something called The Guidebook – and discovers that her “Irish Twin” brother Robert has gone missing. She continues to receive random chapters from this “book” for the next 20 years as she grows up, never knowing what happened to her brother. In 2010 (where the book starts), Abi is invited to an all-expense paid retreat where she is told she will “finally learn the truth about The Guidebook.” And what follows over the course of the next year will break open parts of Abi’s life that have been haunting her for years.
It’s a life story, really. A human story. There is definitely the curious and aching thread of “what happened to Abi’s brother” that pulls the pieces of plot together sometimes. But you’re also watching Abi grow up and experience the large pains of life along with its accumulation of small sufferings. She “looks sideways” all the time for happiness, for love, for the understanding of all the “whys” (and don’t we all?). This novel cleverly (and sometimes hilariously) explores the self-help industry along with tenants of philosophers that happiness-seekers have touted for centuries. What I loved about watching Abi’s journey was seeing her wrestle with all of this – all of the “complexities of causation” as she calls it (ie. “Did I cause this bad thing to happen?”) – yet wander through it all with a quiet sense of humor. Moriarty nails it over and over again when she talks about the different kinds of “silence,” the ways we are always trying to find blame for bad things that happen (whether it’s toward someone/thing else or ourselves), the joys and frustrations and fears and insanity of parenting, and ultimately the deepest longings of our hearts: living in “the absence of fear, into truth and hope, friendship and love, all of it there.” For as Abi asserts, life “comes down to what you do with your fears and your hopes.”
Favorite Quote: Conversation, when done properly, is music.
Disjunctions, miscommunications, conversations at cross purposes, pretension, artifice, vicious jibes and, most especially, silence, all these things excoriate your soul.
Gravity is the Thing combines philosophically delicious prose with enough narrative intrigue to keep you going. I can’t recommend it enough, although I realize that by setting the expectations up so high, some of you will crash while reading it and wonder if I’m completely crazy. Maybe I’ve soared a little too high in my praise – so if that’s the case, feel free to offer me some of your own gravity.
NOTE: Yes, Jaclyn is sister to Liane Moriarty – both Australian literary gurus!