Any novel that involves whispered conversations with a series of saints, a small ghost child in a wardrobe, a six-inch feathered moth and a ‘cold river green’ house wins a prize place on my bookshelf for sheer randomness.
Salvage, a 2007 debut novel by Jane F. Kotapish, tells the story of a woman in her thirties leaving Manhattan for rural Virginia, following a horrifying accident witnessed on the subway. She attempts to make sense of her strange childhood, her ‘brightly hued, deeply scented, lavishly opinionated…flawless hologram’ of a mother and find a way to piece her life back together.
The book reads like a perfectly controlled dream: full of images, voices, peculiar moments, strange objects and dark corners. There’s a friend Edith who is ‘the eye around which everything else in her life storms madly. The lawn mower, the flu shots…four smartly-dressed children, it all whips past her in a controlled, circular blur.’ Someone’s feet are described as ‘cool and pale like sleeping animals in their white sandals.’ The unnamed narrator spends ‘twenty-one nights in a row reading old issues of The New Yorker’, seeing every side of an argument, watching herself watch herself. When her step-father leaves, the ‘household sifted and resettled like a bag of flour.’ The solid structure of eight parts and sub-sections allows the reader to submit to the wild lyrical style.
With its meandering plot, a pair of recurring, persistent images (‘a dim subway platform with a dripping ceiling and an unlit closet with a monotonous drone’) and a narrator traumatised to the point of inertia, the novel may not seem to contain the ideal ingredients for a good read, but Salvage is a novel of great depth and humour that certainly deserves uncovering.
Gemma Seltzer is a Relationship Manager for Literature at Arts Council England, London, where she has responsibility for supporting writers and a range of literary organisations. Salvage is published by Faber.