In What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell, a woman must face the truth about her past in this luminous, evocative literary novel of parents and children, guilt and forgiveness, memory and magical thinking, set in the faded, gritty world of the New Jersey Shore.Read more...
In What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell, a woman must face the truth about her past in this luminous, evocative literary novel of parents and children, guilt and forgiveness, memory and magical thinking, set in the faded, gritty world of the New Jersey Shore.
Olivia was only fifteen the summer she left her hometown of Ocean Vista. Two decades later, on a visit with her children, her nine-year-old son Daniel, recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, disappears. Olivia's search for him sparks tender and painful memories of her past--of her fiercely loving and secretive mother, Myla, an erratic and beautiful psychic, and the discovery of heartbreaking secrets that shattered her world.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-10-14
- Reviewer: Staff
The “you” in the title of this psychological mystery debut refers to children, not partners. In Olivia Reed’s case, what her mother Myla had before she had her were stillborn twins, infant ghosts she’s told will follow her through life. But ghosts take different forms as the novel unfolds: are they spirits of dead children, as professional “psychic” Myla insists? Or are they the teenage girls that Olivia begins to “see” when she is 15, believing herself the inheritor of her mother’s gift? Are they dead souls come of age, her living sisters, or mad hallucinations? The answers shift as the narrative switches back and forth between the summer of 1987, when Olivia was an adolescent, and the present, when she’s traveling with her two children, Daniel and Carrie, after her divorce and revisits her hometown of Ocean Vista, N.J. In this haunted place, “the locus of guilt,” she loses nine-year-old Daniel, who is bipolar, on the beach. His disappearance drives the narrative forward, but what’s more captivating is Olivia’s relationship with her beautiful, unbalanced mother and its parallels with her relationship with Carrie, as well as Olivia’s ruminations on the meanings of mental illness. “What I had before I had you” are hidden pasts, leaving indelible traces. Depth of insight, dreamy prose, and an engrossing storyline mark this wonderful debut. (Jan.)