Bernier’s complex psychological novel says much about modern-day sensibilities and the demands of motherhood. Cautionary and eerily prophetic, the novel begins about a year after the sudden death in an aircraft accident of Kate’s friend Elizabeth. Thrust into a maelstrom of fear after the September 11th terror attacks, Kate’s own troubled psyche reflects a shattered and battered country that has been placed on the edge and blindsided by fear.
While 9/11 was a deliberate act of provocation, Elizabeth’s death was considered a freak accident, a confluence of bad events. In a time of late-afternoon play dates and margaritas overlooking the sandbox, Kate must now learn to walk through a world hewed with a certain sadness and
futility; she can’t quite rise above the arbitrariness of Elizabeth being on that fateful flight.
Rather than write about the troubled course of a young woman's rumored fling, Bernier instead focuses her story on love, family secrets, and the more hidden aspects of Elizabeth’s past. When Elizabeth’s husband, Dave, reveals that his wife was indeed traveling to Joshua Tree in California for something far more than just "a painting workshop," the shock sends Kate into a tailspin of misplaced emotion. The revelation that Elizabeth has left Kate a series of journals in her will leaves Kate puzzled and mystified at what might be in them.
Elizabeth had never shown any signs of being unhappy. As Kate plunges into the diaries, the revelations add to
her heightened sense of paranoia. The journals and whatever they contain agitate the healing process for Kate and her husband, Chris, as they begin to celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary on the isolated and picaresque Great Rock Island.
From Kate’s point of view, Elizabeth was too bohemian and often too edgy.
Digging deeper into the small antique trunk of spiral-bound and decorated notebooks,
she finds someone mostly contented with her life, but also alternately angry and detached, then at times coolly independent. Kate never saw this side of Elizabeth - the "opposite of fatalism" coupled with the stark recognition that many of the choices Elizabeth made at the time didn’t really seem to be like choices.
With Chris traveling to Southeast Asia on an urgent business trip, Kate and her
children, Piper and James, are left to spend the muggy quiet of their days in the humming community of the Great Rock Bakery, where Kate helps her friend Max. Here the claustrophobia of her own quiet love for Chris is tempered by apathy and a sense that lately things haven’t quite lived up to her expectations. Great Rock
Island’s remoteness - and Elizabeth’s diaries - conjure up a distress that acts like a panicky catalyst in Kate’s mind.
Kate works to keep her emotional stability from unraveling while trying to
piece together Elizabeth’s last days. Kate must also learn to deal with her drowning sense of disillusionment at the state of the world and the notion that millions of people are “done in” by random events and freak occurrences of nature through no fault of their own. While Elizabeth’s journals spark this conversation in Kate’s mind, the diaries also
lend a flicker of hope to Kate’s own dramas - the happiness of motherhood, the steadfastness of marriage, and the conflicts between her life as a renowned chef, mom and loyal wife - even as these facets refuse to totally integrate.
In a touching tale of disaster born from a valued friendship, Bernier beautifully manipulates her story, allowing humor to show through the pain and struggle of lost love, self-doubt, recrimination, and eventual redemption. Through Kate's journey, she also reminds us of the elusive nature of forgiveness and that the moment a person is gone, it becomes critical to define them, perhaps even to immortalize them.