Thursday, June 2, 2016

Review: The Invisibles

The Invisibles The Invisibles by Cecilia Galante
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m a friend of Celia’s, so I walked into this novel with a bias in its favor, but I found it very moving, and I came away impressed (again) with her work.

The “Invisibles” are a group of, originally, girls who grew up together in a group home. Forgotten by their parents – most painfully by their mothers – they turn to each other to create a makeshift family. And then, with the end of adolescence, they go their separate ways, leaving both their time together and their deeper history unresolved.

The novel tells the story of their coming together again to help one of them overcome her post-partum depression. As it turns out, though, each has her own difficulty to wrestle with, and it takes the help of her old friends to come to terms with it.

I think it would be easy to tell this story clumsily, to have each woman’s trauma come tumbling out, but instead Celia measures her ‘reveals’ carefully. There’s a narrative that’s always pulling, always earning its right to put its emotion forward. I don’t read what they call “chick lit” – not because I’m opposed to it but because I’m not a “chick,” and I have other things I’d prefer to read. That said, I don’t get the impression that chick lit is usually this strong.

There’s nothing ‘easy’ about this work. [VAGUE SPOILER ALERT:] The characters take a long time to open up to each other, and even their friendship isn’t enough to fix all their problems. These are adults, with deep-seated adult problems, and the story doesn’t undermine that central premise by ‘making all the bad things go away’ at the end. You can imagine a sequel, one where each woman has to deal with the next step of her individual situation, but you don’t have to. This novel tells how each finds the strength to take the next step as an adult by drawing on something she’d lost from her childhood. That’s all it is, and that, by virtue of its focused ambition, is what makes it so compelling.

A couple of my early favorite parts include the description of Nora’s appreciation for (and collection of) first lines of novels. It’s a nice literary device – it reminds us that a love of reading underlies this writing experience – but it also fits. Nora is a girl/woman who has never allowed her own life to go beyond its beginning. For the most part, she chooses not to move forward, chooses to cling to the small, vaguely satisfying life she has made for herself in the shadow of the group home she knew. First lines promise that a great story is on its way, but Nora closes the covers on her own story too quickly to experience what comes next.

I also very much enjoyed the recurring scenes of the Invisibles’ meetings, experiences more like group therapy than the masculine “skull sessions” of my boyhood. One early one is especially powerful as the scene in which Nora finally ends the selective mutism that has defined her early adolescence. Another, near the end, has real power too for the way it brings a kind of healing all around.

I’ll end as I started: Celia is a friend of mine. At the beginning that was a confession of potential bias. Here at the end it’s a boast.

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