I can usually tell when the opening of a novel is over. The writer has spent so much time crafting and re-crafting the opening that eventually s/he has to come up for breath. McNamara never does. The first thing that rockets at you in Wren’s voice – a stew of fragments and sarcasm (“Like he’s a sales rep from the Land of Good to Go”  – I will steal this line.) In lesser hands, a line like, “Something has to be beautiful” (92) would sound trite, or would at least require the author to italicize the ‘has.’ But in McNamara’s hands and in Wren’s voice, it sounds both urgent and precise.
I loved the characters here – all of them. None are simple; all are surprising. The laid-back Dad makes mistakes and has the audacity to have his own life. The best friend is alternatively absolutely right and absolutely infuriating. The psychiatrist is neither stereotypical nor helpful.
That which is true of the characters is also true of the plot. I didn’t know what would happen with Wren, with Cal, with Meredith, Zara, et al. And I wanted to know.
In the end, Wren is right. Something does have to be beautiful. It’s a battle not easily won, nor is it over. But I was okay stepping off the ride when it ended.
Credit should also go to Lizzy Bromley for the book design; it sets the mood perfectly.
Though the title sends us to Frost, it’s Larkin that Wren holds close to her heart.
So I will leave you, as McNamara does, with this –
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
[Full disclosure: I know the author’s sister, who gets a cameo in the book.]