Verdict: FIRST CREATURES reads like a letter from an elderly relative, a mix of good-natured kindness and the harshness of mortality. The pleasant, whimsical narrative and the morbid mystery held in Ruth’s own mind contrast to create a truly unique and deeply personal story.
In this gentle tale about regaining life after loss, first grade teacher Ruth Lily has repressed all memories from before the passing of her husband, Roger. After meeting the mysterious “First Creatures” that live in her garden, however, she slowly begins to regain her memories – and to heal.
A combination of small town fable and Wind in the Willows-style fantasy, FIRST CREATURES is lovingly crafted and comforting. By making her heroine, Ruth, a graying woman on the north side of fifty, Liberati frames the book through a fresh and rarely utilized perspective. Ruth’s fairy-like visitors, or “first creatures” as they’re called, are a mix of child and animal, rock or plant – almost like soft, slightly larger Hallmark figurines. But though the creatures are cute and whimsical, they remain just this side of saccharine, grounded by the realistic portrayal of Ruth’s psychological issues and the sobering presence of the eerie Mr. Gabriello, the hideous and silent first creature that leads Ruth back in time through her memories.
At its heart, FIRST CREATURES is a genre-bending mystery novel. Clues unravel through Ruth’s perspective, leading to genuinely unexpected and tragic reveals. However, the story has been crafted with such gentle touch that it’s totally free of duplicity, craftiness, or evil. Liberati’s characters wish the best for each other, only keep secrets when necessary, and practice a Christianity that is neither heavy-handed nor preachy. The book’s town – Annapolis, Maryland – brims with recognizable, genuinely kindhearted citizens, enthusiastically trying to help each other. For example, Ruth’s son, Bryce, happily co-parents with his wife, Bev. “He was glad he had agreed to stay home in the early morning with the kids so Bev could get in her rowing workout. He wanted to be a ‘hands on dad’ and early morning was a practical time.”
However, though it’s refreshing to enter a world where everyone has an innate sense-of-self, cares for each other, and loves their work, the story can occasionally drag as Ruth remembers the many joys of her past or spends quiet quality time with the first creatures. But overall, the novel exudes feel-good hominess and soft originality.
FIRST CREATURES reads like a letter from an elderly relative, a mix of good-natured kindness and the harshness of mortality. The pleasant, whimsical narrative and the morbid mystery held in Ruth’s own mind contrast to create a truly unique and deeply personal story.
Reviewed by Alison Maney for IndieReader.