This novel strikes a chord of ambivalence in me, with its sense of a self-revelatory first novel, that emotional purging that must be harnessed to make way for other work. At the same time, this is a familiar story, a common landscape where children are set adrift by their parent’s emotional inadequacies. And the usual question: why do the children always have to pay?
The cycle of dysfunction is so entrenched that it has a rhythm all its own, as one generation after another flounders, never quite able to set things right. This is the great diaspora of the dislocated American family, and In the Breeze of Passing Things captures it,
a story told over and over, this time by a ten-year-old girl unable to find a secure place of her own.
Iva is the narrator, dragging along her little sister, Mally, from one house to another on a three-year odyssey of disenfranchised childhood. Their parents, Jameson and Lilly Giles, once so perfectly matched in their love for one another, have become unglued by Jameson’s suicidal obsession, compounded by his consistent refusal to take prescribed medications.
Finally following some basic survivalist instinct, Lilly flees with the girls in an attempt to rescue them all from Jameson's continuing spiral. As Iva describes it, “We are in a constant state of temporary." Lilly fears that her oldest daughter may reach an age of understanding and turn her judgment back on the mother, that Iva will be able to identify Lilly’s complicity in this sad melodrama that makes a game out of wandering.
Seen in the light of day, fly-by-night adventure becomes burdensome, the eccentric behavior revealed as a pretentious masquerade, the abdication of parenting in pursuit of whimsy: “And even if she forgets we’re children who’s teeth could rot, Mother knows us here.” The author has a talent for stunning, lyrical prose that does much to lift the sadness lying beneath her heroine’s fragile composure, although these are the writings of a grown woman in the guise of a pre-adolescent girl, still longing to get it right.
No doubt In the Breeze of Passing Things will appeal to many, its confessional, uncertain tone a distant call of confused childhood trapped by the need to endlessly overlook the selfish behavior of the adults who provide. But little girls grow up and must be careful, lest they nourish the always-searching lost self, instead of owning the courage of the true self.