This novel is filled with sharp contrastsólife and death, before and after, the whole and the broken, love and indifferenceóthe author expertly transitioning from one level of existence to another, each uniquely inhabited as the present. Releasing his characters from the angst of what next, Stamm allows them to move from one choice to another without the usual burden of worry or anxiety that accompanies most decisions, without the self-doubts or what-ifs.
As clear and sterile as an operating room, the space Gillian experiences in the opening pages is, in fact, a hospital, where she slowly assumes consciousness after an accident that has cost the life of her husband, Matthias, and left her disfigured. She faces a number of crucial operations before she can once again move comfortably in the world. Gillian lives in this space without the usual vanities of a beautiful woman, especially one who has been a recognizable personality on television as an interviewer. Rather, her internal journey is that of a survivor, occasionally touched by the horror of her reality but moving forward without false expectations, learning to occupy her body differently, to embrace the differences and allow the necessary healing.
Hubert enters the novel a few years later, a sort of unknowing catalyst alone after a divorce. Famous for his photographs and paintings of nude women, the images he once made at Gillianís request instigated an argument with Matthias the night of the accident. Oblivious to Gillianís struggles since they last met, save an impulse to send a card after reading a newspaper article about the accident, Hubert has gone on with his life, though his work has gone stale since the trouble in his marriage. Drawn to a mountain retreat with the promise of a show of his work, Hubert comes into Gillianís orbit in a masterful turn of events, a moment that begins to shape a future completely at odds with what either character might have anticipated.
The final chapters, a third act in a striking drama, portray the unpredictable manner in which fate aligns the discrepancies in two lives that have crossed at a critical time, the artist greedy for inspiration and the woman seeking a new definition in the wake of tragedy. Their relationship is acted out in a landscape purified of noise and clutter, where nature and quiet provide the backdrop for life-altering decisions. Hubert, in spite of his creative genius, or perhaps because of the selfishness entailed, remains confined by the limitations of his nature; Gillian, on the other hand, soars, released from the conventions of a predictable future to a more profound realization of what her life might be. In this small, compact novel, Stamm has condensed the complexity of life into a triumphant, perfectly proportioned tale.