I had trouble getting into this book. The story is told from five different perspectives, the first long section coming from the p.o.v. of a fairly annoying twelve year old girl, Astrid. The initial chapters are bogged down in detail, and with the minutia and Astrid’s constant “i.e.”s and “etc”s, I had to push my way through. However, I am very glad that I did. Ali Smith has created a compelling portrait of modern family life in the West. Using the war in Iraq and our worship of the media as backdrops, she illustrates our fragmentation through the Smart family and their receptivity to an enchanting stranger who deceives, ruins, and ultimately saves them.
Smith’s characters are richly drawn, their secrets many and their voices unique. I grew to like Astrid after a while, and I developed a special fondness for Magnus, the teenage brother who once was squeaky clean “Hologram Boy” and now is dealing with both his sexual awakening and the aftermath of a suicide he unintentionally caused. Dr. Michael Smart’s narrative changes in form, evolving into poetry and devolving into cliché, as his self-image inflates, deflates, and then deflates some more. Eve Smart, passive author, wife, and mother, goes through perhaps the biggest transformation. She wakes up from a life lived in deep sleep and abandons everything. She even throws her cell phone into the Grand Canyon.
Amber, the stranger who triggers all of this change, remains elusive. Her chapters are lyrical and evasive. Is she a thief? An angel? The voice of modernity? I like that the mystery is never solved.