Eleanor - Jason Gurley
Eleanor - Jason Gurley ****
Writing fantasy is one thing and writing fiction on mainstream themes is another, but bringing them together is a trickier proposition. The two don't usually cross over all that well since they have different emotional ranges, with fantasy usually requiring a more heightened state that doesn't always sit comfortably with ordinary human emotions. Jason Gurley has a particularly difficult challenge in Eleanor since the fantasy side is there as a means to deal with recognisable but complex emotions surrounding death and bereavement.
We'd all like to believe that loved ones we have lost could be present somewhere we could reach them. Second chances however, where there is a possibility to correct some of the more cruel twists of fate that take loved ones from us, go beyond common experience and the novel risks entering into the area of wish-fulfilment and sentimentality.
The harsh reality of bereavement and the trials of life are keenly felt in the early part of Eleanor, Gurley relating the tragedies that affect one family in Portland, Oregon between 1962 and 1985. He describes it so well that you can understand the devastation and the sense of loss that subsequently affects 14 year old Eleanor and the other members of their family, all of it stemming from one incident back in 1962. Unexpectedly one day however, Eleanor is transported out of her world into a dream world of childhood bliss, all green fields and clouds. Just as suddenly she is wrenched into a dark, rainy nightmare landscape populated by two large creatures and an unhappy caretaker.
All of these lurches out of her world are caused by an entity lying outside the physical world and beyond time in a place called the 'Rift' located between all these different realities. When Eleanor is finally able to make contact with the entities in this realm, she discovers that there might be a way to change everything, intervening in the past to alter the timeline that will undo all the wrongs that have destroyed the lives of more than one person in her family and reset it on a new course. But where does one start, and what are the risks involved?
Well, we've all seen 'Back to the Future' and know that altering timelines can lead to unforeseen consequences. Gurley's novel is a little more ambitious than that, and the Rift isn't necessarily a bubble or crack between one reality and another. The author uses the idea to try and get to the inner life that we can't control and which doesn't follow rules, and that's a difficult place to delve into. The imagery however proves to be fully up to the task of representing the kind of unbearable pain that is damaging to the psyche, and it's one way of exploring how humans are able to process it. I'm still a bit sceptical of the 'special means' that are used here just in the case of Eleanor, but whether you go along with the concept or not, Gurley remains true to the characters and to the pain they feel, and doesn't ever pretend that there is any easy way out of it.
Eleanor by Jason Gurley is published by Harper Voyager on 20th March 2016.