Strange and violent things are happening in a small corner of the world around Providence, Rhode Island in Liese O’Halloran Schwarz’s The Possible World. The strangeness and the violence happen immediately. There’s a multiple murder. There’s a boy who stops answering to his own name and insisting on another. There’s an old woman in a nursing home with a mysterious past. Fortunately, all this strangeness and violent leads up to a perfect moment at the end of the book.
After the chaos of the opening chapters, The Possible World settles into three different narrative threads. The boy Ben, who wants people to call him Leo, is brought in to the emergency room to check for physical injuries after being the sole survivor of a multiple murder before being sent to the psychiatric ward. At the emergency room, he meets Dr. Lucy Cole, who is the consummate doctor with a crumbling marriage. Her husband doesn’t understand what it’s like to be married to a doctor. Meanwhile, Clare is about to celebrate her 100th birthday at a nursing home. In their little town, the oldest person gets a special award and it’s down to Clare and another woman. The problem is that no one can find proof of Clare’s birth…or her life before she arrived at the nursing home.
Leo (Ben) and Clare slowly tell their stories, revealing an unbelievable connection that I couldn’t have predicted from the outset. Leo and Lucy bond, both of them misunderstood by people who are supposed to stand by them. Leo is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and, because the psychiatrists aren’t making a lot of progress with him, he is about to turfed out to the foster system. His plight and his sadness make Lucy want to care for him beyond her remit as an ER doctor. As I learned more about Clare’s past and her connection to Leo, I saw a theme of ad hoc parenting and care-taking develop. In this book, family are the people you find when the biological family doesn’t work for a variety of reasons.
Some readers may be irritated by the ending, which relies on the perfect alignment of all the plots. I liked it. For me, the ending was a brilliant resolution of Leo and Clare’s story. Surprisingly for a book that starts with a gruesome multiple murder, this book ends on a bright note of hope. I also really liked the characters. Unlike some books with multiple narrators, I liked all of the protagonists. There weren’t any sections that dragged or that bored me. The Possible World was a weirdly charming book.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 26 June 2018.